BY KARYL WALKER Associate editor — Crime/court desk email@example.com
TEACHERS who opt to break up fights between students in schools do so at their own risk.
The issue has again come to national attention after police from the St Andrew South Division criticised the inaction of teachers and other adult staff at Penwood High School when 16-year-old student Nario Coleman, otherwise called 'Two Face' of a Balcombe Drive address, was stabbed to death during a brawl with another male student on April 11.
Head of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Clayton Hall, told the Jamaica Observer that educators have been warned not to get physically involved in an effort to break up fights... for their own protection.
"We ask that teachers seek to prevent or stop these occurrences by giving clear instructions. There have been cases where teachers have tried to break up fights physically and have had the law come at them. So we have asked that teachers, unless they think they can physically do so, not to get involved in any physical altercation," Hall said.
Coleman was involved in a fight with another student for about six minutes but no adult responded. He was stabbed multiple times in his upper body.
In 2008, another student was stabbed and seriously injured during a fight at Penwood High School.
Hall said that teachers who sustain injuries during any attempt to break up violent confrontations have no insurance and may only get recourse through the court system.
"There is technically no insurance plan outside of the National Insurance Scheme that would assist teachers if they get injured on the job," he said.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said that in light of the violent nature of some schools, the ministry was moving to have deans of discipline enlisted as district constables in the constabulary.
"A dean of discipline is an officer with special responsibility and that's why I am moving to have them sworn in as district constables so they can have powers of restraint. A citizen has a common-law right to repel violence but no teacher has the power to do that. In schools, physical restraint may be needed and I am in discussion with guidance counsellors to make them able to do so without fear of legal repercussions," Thwaites said.
Head of the Professional Studies Department at the Mico University College Lynelga Beckford said although teachers are sensitised to expect confrontations between students, there is little, including in their training curriculum, to prepare them to physically break up fights.
"They are sensitised to the social problems and experiences at all levels of the education system and students are sometimes sent out into the field to study these things, but they are not taught like the police and others in the security areas to deal with that exactly," Beckford told the Sunday Observer.
But for Garfield Dennis, who teaches construction at BB Coke High School in Junction, St Elizabeth, his experience with an unruly student has had a devastating effect.
Dennis was stabbed in the back after he reprimanded a male student and was hospitalised for about a week as a result of his injuries.
"I was speaking with some female co-workers when the boy came in front of me and said 'dutty boy chi chi beard'. I simply touched him in the forehead and told him that we were not companions, and walked away. The boy stabbed me in my back and ran off. I was taken to a doctor in Junction, who referred me to the hospital. My lungs almost collapsed due to internal bleeding. I was rushed into emergency surgery," Dennis said.
One female teacher who wished not be named, told of her ordeal when a female student became violent after she attempted to reprimand her for disrupting her class.
"It was a typical day. I went to class and they were being noisy. I spent about 10 minutes trying to get them calm. Eventually they became calm, but this one student insisted on talking to someone. I went over to her and patted her on her shoulder and before I could ask her to be quiet she pushed me to the ground. I got up and pushed her back and she grabbed at me, tearing my blouse open. It was a good thing I had my register as I had to use it to protect myself from exposure," the teacher said.
Eventually the skirmish was broken up as other students intervened, but that did not stop the enraged student from hurling threats and expletives at the teacher.
The teacher was forced to quit her job, after being told by school administrators that she was not suited for that type of environment.
The offending student was also expelled.
"People stay on the outside and think that teachers are the problem. They have no clue what we go through. These students are something else. They come from different backgrounds and some have no idea what civil norms are. They curse loudly in class and although we try to counsel them and give them a positive outlook, it is very difficult," the teacher said.
She blamed the lack of proper parenting for the indiscipline in schools and the wider society, and said that while she felt empathy for the slain student's loved ones, she could not blame her colleagues at Penwood High.
"I cannot support the argument that the school is to be blamed," she said. "Parents need to monitor their children and don't allow them to leave home with weapons and other contraband."
Another teacher has sworn that she would not take a beating from any student and would fight back, even at the expense of her job.
"I am not putting myself in harm's way and part fights involving students, especially when knives and scissors are involved, but if a student attacks me, I am going to put down my chalk, register and duster and fight back. Teaching is not a safe job anymore, and we have to protect ourselves from these disrespectful students," she said.
In April 2012, five students of Aabuthnot Gallimore High School in St Ann were charged with wounding with intent and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm after they attacked the dean of discipline, Gavin Myers.
Myers was stabbed several times and his left leg was broken.
The five boys were all on suspension but had turned up at the school during a 'Girls Day' function.
Myers attempted to remove the boys from the compound when he was attacked and mauled.
The boys all had behavioural problems and were suspected of involvement in intimidation, robbery, and extortion at the secondary institution.
In April 2008, teachers at Pembroke Hall High School wore black to register their disgust at what they described as the 'indecisiveness' of the school board which failed to expel three male students who had ganged up and beaten a male music teacher.
The teacher was beaten after he attempted to retrieve a chair that was removed from the music room. During the fight, the boys took turns holding the teacher while he was being kicked and punched. The fight was broken up by a member of the ancillary staff.
The three students were given five-day suspensions as punishment.