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School suspensions rise

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Data regarding violent acts in secondary schools for the past three years have remained more or less the same as in 2012 when there were 1,912 cases. There were 1,709 cases in 2013, 1,405 cases in 2014 and 1,650 cases in 2015.

But there has been an increase in suspensions for the period 2014 to 2015.

In 2014, 4,201 students were suspended, whereas the following year 5,329 students were suspended.

However, chief education officer Harrilal Seecharan said this must be looked at in the context of the ministry taking a zero-tolerance approach to school violence.

Seecharan, along with other ministry officials, appeared before the Joint Select Committee on Social Services and Public Administration which took place at the Office of the Parliament, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

“If you weren’t aware that the ministry had instituted a policy of zero tolerance of these activities you would not have realised that the increase may have been related to that directive,” Seecharan said.

And topping the list of reasons for suspension included disrespect for authority, fighting and bullying.

Male-on-male violence, he said, seemed to be more prevalent than female-female violence or female-male violence in schools.

Seecharan said for the past ten years there has been no expulsion of students.

However, despite counselling sessions for students deemed high risk, the negative elements in the community continued to influence wrongdoers, he added.

Parental involvement in schools also came to the fore. Seecharan said it was not compulsory for parents to attend meetings.

Also appearing before the committee were members of the Police Service who said social workers were often involved in antibullying sessions.

Saying that taxing was a serious problem, public relations officer for the Police Service ASP Michael Pierre said some students were not aware that this particular offence could have serious consequences.

The committee was headed by Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir who said the subject of crime and violence in schools was not only of tremendous concern to society but was unacceptable as students represented the next generation.

Echoing his sentiments was permanent secretary in the ministry, Gillian MacIntyre, who said there was an apparent increase in bullying and violence in schools.

The issue was a complex one, she said, with low levels of literacy and numeracy often showing up as early as standard one and filtering into secondary school.

Teacher absenteeism, the committee heard, also had a negative impact on discipline in schools as this particular problem continued to plague the service.

He said there were 100-plus teachers who were more than “1,000 minutes late,” which is being probed by the ministry.

Regarding the issue of boot camps as recommended by National Security Minister Edmund Dillon, communications manager for the Police Service Ellen Lewis said there were “home grown” solutions like police youth clubs which have yielded tremendous success.

Mahabir recommended that there be an increase in community policing patrols so as to keep violence in schools to a minimum.


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