BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau email@example.com
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Education Minister Ronnie Thwaites has formally announced the reversal of plans by the former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government for a special school dedicated to the rehabilitation of disruptive boys.
Thwaites said late Thursday that the buildings allocated by the previous administration for the Malvern Special High School across the road from Munro College at Potsdam in the hills of Malvern, will now be used to accommodate an expanded Sixth Form for Munro (boys) and the neighbouring Hampton School (girls).
Thwaites told his audience at an awards function for school children in South East St Elizabeth that the change of policy was a "transformation of what was going to be a child prison up at Munro, into an uplifting place of higher education for the students of South East St Elizabeth and the whole parish".
Thwaites credited member of Parliament for SE St Elizabeth Richard Parchment for consistently lobbying for the change of policy.
The education minister later told journalists that the "fundamental philosophy [behind the policy change] is that deviant behaviour is best attended to within the community where the students come from and will have to return to".
Thwaites said it was felt "that it is best that a remedial programme which is well on the way" led by behavioural specialists including Dr Wendell Abel, "will engage students within their community, to take the place of removal of students to a far off place where they would be in contact with, and in the company of others", with records of indiscipline.
As explained to journalists in 2011 by former Education Minister Andrew Holness in the Bruce Golding-led JLP Administration of that time, the Malvern Special High School was to have functioned as an environment for education and rehabilitation.
Holness said then that the school would have served children who were close to being evicted from school because of their behaviour or were so disruptive that their teachers had "given up" on them. It would not cater for those who had already "committed themselves" in criminal acts and were due to face the Courts, he said then. As envisioned by Holness, boys deemed too disruptive or unruly for the normal school system would have spent six months at the special school in Potsdam, before being reintegrated in the normal school system.
"This facility is really designed to reach those students before they commit themselves and come in contact with the law," Holness said back then.
Holness, who later became prime minister for a short time following the resignation of Golding and is now Opposition Leader, said at the time that the behavioural change facility would not be a "remand centre, not a place where children are locked up" or a "detention centre".
However, Thwaites who took over as education minister following the victory of the People's National Party in the December 2011 poll, said that the JLP Government may have failed to consider the legal aspects of their decision to set up such a facility.
"There are legal issues ... you can't just remove a child from a school without an order of a Court," Thwaites, who is a lawyer, told journalists.
"I am not sure that that was ever contemplated in how this facility was envisaged," he added.
Thwaites who was first reported as having reservations about the special school late last year, reiterated to journalists that "the best advice that I have is that therapy for students with severe behavioural problems is best related to the circumstances where they live and have to return to, rather than to remove them as if they were being incarcerated".
Thwaites said he expected Munro and Hampton to take control of the "completed" facilities by the start of the new school year in September.
Up to late last year, the Government had spent over $50 million to renovate the building complex which was designed to accommodate 40-60 boys.
The sloping three-acre property, with a panoramic view of the Pedro Plains and the southern St Elizabeth coastline, was bought by Government from the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) for just over $30 million in 2010.
The JFF had abandoned plans for a football academy at the location -- once a private development known as Munro Villas.