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Principal accused of exploiting parents seeking GSAT transfers

Thwaites says payment of placement fees not allowed

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT Observer writer hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 14, 2014    

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THE principal of a prominent St Andrew-based high school is coming under heavy criticism from teachers who are not in agreement with a new decision to have parents of recently-placed GSAT students pay a non-refundable fee before their application for transfers can be considered.

One senior teacher who spoke with the Jamaica Observer on the condition of anonymity, said parents are being charged $500 for their application "to be considered" although the principal is fully aware that the enrolment capacity has already been reached.

According to the teacher, the academic staff was not aware of this new requirement and the Bursar staff was only informed the day before the results of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) were out.

"So the change was very strategic. He saw a quick way to make money and went with it," the angry teacher said.

"Its exploitation. Some of the parents have their last few dollars but are desperate for the space so they give the money over with a hope that the child will be considered," he added.

But according to the educator, there is no guarantee of the child getting a transfer to that school since there is already no space.

"The whole thing has a fishy scent. We can't guarantee anything if we don't have the space, so the payment and stuff seems like another scam. I'd say it's likened to corporate or public sector scamming," he said.

But while the Observer understands that the practice is not uncommon among many schools in the Corporate Area, education minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites said the payment of fees for a transfer is not allowed.

"Generally speaking there is no charge specified by the Ministry of Education for children seeking transfers and the ministry surely frowns upon that," Thwaites said when contacted, yesterday.

One distraught parent is now demanding answers after paying the $500 and then later told the application was lost.

"I wrote a letter, filled out the form and paid the money. When I realised I wasn't getting a response I went to speak with the principal only fi hear seh dem can't find the form and on top of things, I was not allowed to fill out a next one," the parent told the Observer.

According to the mother, she has been seeking a transfer for her child who despite receiving a 70 per cent average was placed at an inner-city-based high school.

I don't want her there. Influence is a heck of a thing and she's not use to certain behaviour and I don't want her there. Any parent wants what's good for their child. Yes they say the school is not the problem, but for me, it's the environment in which it is situated," she lamented.

Meanwhile, the senior teacher explained that each year 240 students are sent to the school by the ministry, from which 40 are placed in each of the six grade seven classes.

"Now this is where the rip off comes in. Collecting with full knowledge that we can't accommodate them. Right now because of promissory notes or deep pockets of some parents the classes are being over crowded with up to 43 or 45 students at grade seven level," said the teacher.

The principal, he said, has always maintained that he is running a business.

But yesterday, the education minister said principals have a five percent discretion where class numbers are concerned.

Meanwhile ,the teacher said students who are not performing at the academic level of the school are also accepted into the system at all levels which makes the performance index go down.

"Even those we know don't stand a chance because of grades are still being asked to pay. Some of these kids are not at the level we need them to be so that slows classes down," he said.

The teacher cited a case of an autistic child being placed at the school although the principal is aware that the teachers aren't trained to deal with special needs children.

"When he enters that realm we have to just give him time to re-associate himself with the learning environment," he said.

Thwaites, however, said that students with special needs may be admitted into regular classrooms, even as he encourages teachers, trained or untrained to deal with such children, to exert confidence and patience with them.

"It is for the discretion of the principal and ultimately the school board to make such a decision but I would encourage teachers to work with the student," he said.

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