JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — A St Elizabeth family is demanding justice after their relative, 14-year-old Jaheim Colman, was beaten unconscious, allegedly by a grade 11 student, for stepping on a pair of Clarks shoes, and had to be moved on foot by his schoolmates from BB Coke High to a doctor's office about 500 metres away.
The incident, which happened on Thursday about 2:45 pm, has generated widespread debate on violence in schools. The incident prompted emergency meetings with school administrators, the board, police, and Ministry of Education officials Thursday night, and again on Friday at the Junction-based school.
Colman's mother, Shantel Gouldbourne, is demanding that her son's aggressor face the necessary punishment from not only the school but also the law.
"I need justice. I need [the student] to get punished because I could stay anywhere and hear that my son died at the school. I need the school to deal with it. I need the law to deal with it. I need this to go to the Ministry of Education," she said outside the Mandeville Regional Hospital on Friday morning.
Her son has been admitted at the hospital with a swollen face and is awaiting scans to determine the extent of his injuries.
"He is supposed to do a brain scan; he did an X-ray [on Thursday]. The doctors said they see a sign of air behind his brain so they are not really sure of anything yet until he does the scan," Colman's aunt and Gouldbourne's sister, Tameka Holness, explained.
The mother described her son's condition when she visited him at the hospital on Friday.
"He is talking but the light is affecting his eye so he has to have it covered. His whole face is swollen. The eyes are shutting down, black and blue and blood marks," she said.
The Jamaica Observer was told that shortly after the dismissal of classes on Thursday, Colman and another boy were among students collecting their phones when the older boy accused the younger boy of stepping on his Clarks shoes.
"He made a bad step," Colman's aunt said.
The older boy is accused of pushing Colman to the ground, beating him, and stepping in his face.
"He fell, hit his head, and got knocked out and then [the student] was stepping in his face. It is very sad to see that you can send your kids to school and to get a phone call like that," said the aunt.
She claims the school's security personnel didn't report the incident to school administrators, resulting in her nephew being taken by his peers on foot through the busy town of Junction, to seek medical attention.
"It is Jaheim's friends who had to walk with him, pick him up and walk with him through Junction town to bring him to [a doctor]," she said.
She claimed that efforts to contact school officials on Thursday led to a distasteful phone call conversation between herself and a woman who she identified as a teacher at the institution.
"We were trying to get in touch with the school [but] we got a teacher's number. We called her, trying to get the principal's number. Her response was: 'I am not the principal. I am not the dean of discipline. How did you get my number? You are not supposed to call me,' and all that so I am thinking, you know, as a teacher you could have dealt with that better," said the aunt.
"You could simply tell us how you are going to get in touch with the principal," she added.
Head of the St Elizabeth police, Acting Superintendent Coleridge Minto said the grade 11 student was brought in to the police by his mother, for questioning.
And Gouldbourne said she met with school administrators Friday morning.
"We went to the school and they said they are going to call a meeting with the boy's parents. The police also went over there; they said they are going to take it from there. I have to go back to the police station," she said.
Chairman of the school's board, Cetany Holness, expressed shock at the incident.
"We had an emergency meeting [Thursday] night. The incident was very unfortunate. We are in disbelief at this time because we couldn't believe that an 11th grade student could have ill-treated a grade nine student to that magnitude to the extent where the student was knocked out completely," he said.
He said the aggressor is a known "troublemaker".
"He is a student who we have under the radar at the institution. He appeared before the personnel committee on numerous occasions," said Holness.
When asked about the school's lack of response in getting medical care for the child, Holness said the administrators became aware of the matter late.
"The principal wasn't aware of the situation until about half an hour after," he said.
He said the school's arrangement with its security company has come into question.
"In terms of the security at the gate, what the security should have done when the incident took place, they should have reported the matter to the dean of discipline who would report the matter to the principal [so] that the school could have attacked very swiftly," explained Holness.
"We are really looking at the security company. I think they fell down on their duty, and we have to do something about them. The job that they are placed at the gate to do, they really fell down badly," he said.
Holness said the school will be seeking to take action against the grade 11 student.
"We are going to have the student, his parents, at a personnel committee hearing at the board of management of the school, and we are looking at that student as a big troublemaker in the institution and we will take it from there," he said.
Colman's aunt said the incident raises questions about the safety of students from the violence of their peers.
"What hurts the most is that it wasn't a fight, [it was] just a simple bounce. He is not supposed to be in school. I think he is a danger to the rest of the kids because if somebody can just bounce you and you do that, you are a danger to the kids," she said.