Sat | Apr 29, 2017

Prickly Poles and Slippery Slopes

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2015 | 9:00 AM

The colour of the red cells in the blood of 11-year-old Akella Lewis was a deep orange. Inasmuch as the political significance of this might have been lost on a GSAT-bound child, this is the one truth that is irrefutable, in a sea of half-truths and misinformation. Ask the biologists.

Nonetheless, let us keep our focus on the most important issue here. Akella died during normal school hours, on a day that she was sent to school by those who cared for and loved her; not her mother with whom she didn't live. There is little wiggle room here. The rules, laws and general guidelines for the supervision of children are unambiguous. Children of school age, and in particular, primary school children, must be in school at school time. Exceptions are, of course, school trips for educational or recreational purposes, sporting events or other activities of a cultural nature, which will benefit the overall development of the child. Outside of those endeavours, they must be within the perimeters of the school compound, whether or not there is a protective fence or wall. Parents are legally liable for the attendance of their children at school, and can be prosecuted if they are kept away without good reason, such as illness.

So absolute is the imperative of school attendance that school administrators are totally wrong when they send home high school boys for wearing khaki pants tighter than their sisters' leggings or girls with skirts so short, they expose their African tints below their gluteus maximus.

Once children have been delivered to school; they become the sole responsibility of the principal and his/her staff. This means that as surrogate mother/fathers, the health and overall welfare of the child are squarely the school's remit. A child with a known illness or disability requires special attention and vigilance. Finally, in the event that a child is to be removed from school by a parent or guardian, the principal must ensure that the pick-up person is properly authorised. Indeed, biology doesn't trump sociology, because there are occasions when an uncle or stepmother might be the only parents known to the school and an estranged mother or father cannot simply pop up and claim him/her.

 

buck stops with principal

 

You will notice that the seat of final authority lies with the principal and up to this time, I make no mention of board, even in the context of the wood making the chair upon which the chairperson balances. A school board has oversight and may 'grade' the principal. However, the planning of school trips is wholly and solely the principal's prerogative and the buck stops with her/him. A chairperson who interferes with the principal's authority gets an 'F'.

Something sinister went on last week at the Prickly Pole Primary School. Someone had the bright idea that a convoy of buses should be filled with disaffected comrades in pursuance of their grouse regarding the selection of the final candidate in North East St Ann, where incumbent Lisa Hanna, is in a contest bigger than her Miss World Competition 21 years ago, despite the challenges becoming so ugly. Worse, the organisers, along with parish councillor Vinnette Robb-Oddman, misusing her power as board chairperson, made two trips to the school and brought parents, including Akella's mother, to, repugnantly, retrieve their children in furtherance of their intra-party dispute. Akella fainted on the bus and died later.

I do not know if the democratic and constitutional process in the People's National Party (PNP) is being followed. After all, a week ago, the Comrade Leader expressed her disappointment with inappropriate behaviour regarding selection of candidates for the general election. Anything that varies from the clearly-defined rules entrenched in the party, would be a grave 'diss-Hanna' whether she is forced out or in, by minority but powerful elements. There is only one way to do the right thing. However, when one varies from the straight and narrow, it often opens a Pandora's Box of consequences, many of which are irreversible.

When the bauxite-coloured dust settles, the question must be answered as to whether or not the protest was justified. Indeed, if it is a case of bullying, then order and rules in the 77-year-old organisation must be enforced. In any event, if one can't uphold democracy in 1/63 of the electoral constituencies; how can the PNP guarantee this for the society at large as a government?

While the Office of the Children's Advocate conducts its investigations, it appears that the minister of education has concluded his and dismissed Robb-Oddman. Was there negligence on the part of the principal or her proxies? Strong principals stand up to school boards and say, "You are wrong and I will not allow you to do what you are trying to!"

Is there any evidence of parental dereliction?

 

not employees

 

As regards Robb-Oddman's termination, did the ministry use the rules of natural justice? School board members are not employees and serve at the behest of ministers. However, in order to be fair and transparent, I hope that due process was followed and the chairperson given a full opportunity to defend her actions.

One would note that this ministry has a horrendous record regarding the termination of employment of its officers, especially those employed to schools. Some 80 per cent of dismissals, by the minister's own account, have been overturned by a higher tribunal, because improper procedures and the rules of natural justice were not applied. This says volumes, regarding the governance and rights of workers in the ministry and Minister Ronnie Thwaites has an uphill battle pushing back this pattern.

It also says that there are scores of 'cayliss' adults who are so ruthless that they believe that their children are fair game and battlegrounds in the war of dirty politics.

There is good reason that government sets the bar at 18 for drinking, marriage, and of course, voting in an election. If they cannot vote, they must not go to political rallies.

- Dr Orville Taylor is a senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.