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Ten female students of the Mucurapo West Secondary School have been suspended for one week for their involvement in a fight outside the school last Friday. This was confirmed yesterday by the Education Ministry, which said a full investigation had been launched. A ministry official said the probe would entail taking statements from the students involved and witnesses. A final report will then be submitted to Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, who is currently in Dubai.
The victim of the attack, however, has been targeted by other students for over two years and complaints to school authorities did little to curb the attacks, her mother told the media yesterday. The fight, which was captured via a cellphone and was posted on various social media sites, including Facebook, has gone viral. It showed a gang of about 12 students beating a particular girl, who was shoved to the ground, kicked and cuffed during a brawl witnessed by several other students and passers-by.
At one point, it appeared there was an attempt to drag the girl by the hair, which was cheered on by other students. The three-and-a-half minute video also showed the students going through heavy traffic in pursuit of their target and a man who identified himself as a police officer who eventually intervened to stop the fight. As he was parting the fight and taking away one of the attackers, however, he was repeatedly cursed by the other girls.
Some people posted shocked reactions on Facebook, while others said that was nothing new as bullying and beatings were considered the norm in public schools.
Victim bullied over two years
However, the victim’s mother, in a television interview, said that was not the first time her daughter had been attacked. She said her child had been a victim of bullying for over two years and the perpetrators were often suspended but continued their attacks when they returned to school. She said her daughter was threatened earlier on Friday and reported it to the principal but that still did not prevent the girls from attacking her after school. They have since reported the mater to the ministry and the police.
President of the T&T Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA) Devanand Sinanan yesterday said it represented a much larger social problem which needed immediate attention. He said for far too long teachers and principals have been “crying out in the wilderness” and begging for social workers who would extend their services to the homes of troubled students.
“Teachers have to deal with bullying and violence on a daily basis. In many instances when we investigate, the problem stems from the home and nine out of ten times we do not get the support from the parents,” Sinanan said. He said TTUTA has been having ongoing discussion with chairman of the Police Service Commission, Prof Ramesh Deosaran, to determine how best to tackle the problem.
“We need to look at this seriously if we want to get to the root cause of the problem. As it is we do not even have enough guidance officers in schools. “We as a society first need to acknowledge there is a grave problem in the nation’s schools. We have become a very violent society,” he added. On whether there should be increased police patrols at troubled schools, especially upon dismissal, Sinanan said the police were doing all they could.
“In many instances the police have responded and responded quickly. They do all they could, given the circumstances, but we do not want our schools to reduce to a state where there is the constant presence of police officers,” he added.
Unacceptable behaviour, says Rowley
The behaviour of the students showed a blatant disregard for the authorities and those guilty must face the consequences, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley urged on a political platform on Monday night. “Their disregard for authority was frightening and we need to address those things, and the basis for addressing it is that there must be consequences for their behaviour but either we have no mechanisms in place to have it done or we have no will to do it,” Rowley said.
“In any normal situation where the order of the day was acceptable to the people involved, all of those girls in that video should face some serious disciplinary charges, so what they call a right is in fact a privilege to go to a secondary school. If that is how you behave, there are consequences to it.” He described the students who were videotaped fighting as “behaving like hyenas in the African jungle.”
Saying it was also important to address issues facing the community and homes, Rowley added: “Crime pays some people today, including people from the university, some of them with long gowns in the court. We have to address community standards, community relations and household responsibility.”
Public must intervene
Head of the Victims and Witness Support Unit of the Police Service Margaret Sampson-Browne said she was appalled that drivers refused to get out of their cars to separate the fighting girls. “Cars were actually bumper-to-bumper. Couldn’t anybody at least come out and say something? We don’t want you to scramble and beat the child but at least come and say something,” Sampson-Browne suggested. She said the girls were angry and felt the need to defend themselves, even against the defenceless.
However, she did say she believed the perpetrators should face charges for the attack, since they committed at least two crimes: Fighting publicly and obscene language.