T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Martin Lum Kin expressed the concern felt by parents, teachers and students all across this country, when he said crime is “coming too close and too often in schools, especially in the Belmont area.”
His comment, after the victim of a shooting ran bleeding and shirtless through the compound of Providence Girls’ Catholic School in Belmont, draws attention to a disturbing trend. As crime spirals further out of control nationwide, not even schools are safe.
In just the past few weeks there have been incidents involving gunplay in dangerous proximity to schools and in every case, the students have been witnesses to those events.
The incident at Providence on Thursday occurred just at the start of the school day.
A Belmont resident was shot by a gunman near the Hilton Trinidad on the Lady Young Road. To escape his assailant, the man ran through a track which runs at the back of the school between the Lady Young and Belmont Circular Roads and jumped over the school’s fence.
His presence in the schoolyard caused chaos as students and staff screamed and ran for cover.
Just days earlier and a few metres away from Providence Girls’, gunmen entered Belmont Secondary School through a hole in a fence and accosted a safety officer who stumbled upon them.
Students there saw the safety officer being taken to the back of the school at gunpoint. Things might have been much worse had it not been for police officers on patrol nearby, as the gunmen fled on hearing a siren.
And it was just a few weeks earlier that five men in two SUVs drove through a dirt track behind the Munroe Road Hindu Primary School and shot and killed farmer Ronnie Pierre. Again, this violent crime was witnessed by the children in the nearby school.
While no students suffered physical harm in these three incidents, they were not spared the trauma of being so perilously close to heinous crimes.
The lingering effects of such harrowing ordeals were summed up best by a Form One Providence Girls’ student, who expressed what every student exposed to those incidents must still be feeling: “We do not feel safe going back to the school.”
The early dismissal of classes on each occasion provided only temporary reprieve—if any at all—from those frightening incidents. Within a short time, they had to return to classes at locations that were, in a very real sense, crime scenes.
There were interventions by Ministry of Education Student Support Services Division personnel in each instance to deal with the psychological trauma, but these recent occurrences demand more serious interventions.
There is already some level of co-operation between the Ministries of Education and National Security to address violence in schools. However, these efforts are primarily focused on student-on-student incidents.
Criminal activity encroaching on places of learning, posing serious threats to students, takes the matter to a much higher dimension, requiring a stronger response.
Police patrols near the affected schools treat only the symptoms and are nowhere near tackling the cause of this problem.
Warring gangs and murderous criminals are brazenly breaking the law, showing no care or regard even for vulnerable children. They must be stopped before things get much worse.