Gov't should put a stop to locking out schoolchildren
A female student at Edith Dalton James High School says she was barred from classes because she wore slippers as her school shoes were damaged. (Photos: Llewellyn Wynter)

Could it be that some school leaders feel they are not accountable to the Ministry of Education?

Our story published on Thursday, headlined 'Edith Dalton students barred from classes' tells of students standing outside the school in St Andrew — locked out because they were considered inappropriately groomed and for being late.

In one case we hear that a child wore slippers because she said her school shoes had been "damaged". One student said he had been locked out of school for days because his pants was too tight and problems with his hair. Another student reported being locked out for lateness.

None of this is new. For as long as most Jamaicans can remember there have been such episodes from time to time. Yet, we are always taken aback because governments — regardless of political party — have consistently said children should not be barred from school. The Ministry of Education says school leaders must find suitable ways of imposing discipline without compromising children's safety,

Our reporter reminds us that only last year Education Minister Mrs Fayval Williams was quoted as saying: "Schools are not allowed to lock out students regardless of whether it is uniform or something else. There are too many risks associated with that. Once a student steps on the school compound we act in the place of parents, and I have consistently said that there should not be any locking out whatsoever of our students…"

Mrs Williams also said last year that schools and school boards should partner with parents to determine details regarding appropriate uniform, dress codes and related grooming.

That's fine. But it must be obvious that any punishment for rule breaches should not involve having our children on the street, unsupervised.

Back in November 2019 this newspaper asked school leaders to consider the 'what if' question before locking out children. We think it worthwhile to repeat what we said then:

"What if something goes wrong? What if a child hanging around outside the locked school gate is hit by a passing motor vehicle? What if a child returning home after being locked out is abducted or lured away by unscrupulous, ruthless, evil people?"

We pointed out then that "not only does Jamaican law insist on the care and protection of children, the country is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child".

And further that "school isn't only a place for learning. For those in the vulnerable, growing up years, school is home away from home. It's a place that should be totally committed to the care and protection of children.

"Indeed, for many Jamaican children, home and its environs are so broken and dysfunctional that school becomes the only place where positive values are learnt.

"Those positives, including gaining an education, won't be had if children are blocked from school."

It seems to us that if schools find themselves unable to cope with indiscipline, help should be requested from the responsible authorities, including the education ministry, childcare agencies, police, et al.

Leaving children on the street to fend for themselves cannot be an option.

The Government should put its foot down on this issue once and for all.

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