Tue | Jul 16, 2019

Editorial | Calvin Rowe’s flaccid explanation

Published:Tuesday | March 26, 2019 | 12:21 AM

Calvin Rowe’s choice of language is instructive. Sanjaye Shaw, a physics teacher, he said, “spewed” allegations of an assault on him by student athletes, “notwithstanding the absence of evidence of the said assault”.

The implication, therefore, and the conclusion Mr Rowe invites us to draw is obviously that Mr Shaw is not credible, the converse of which is that greater trust can be placed in the arguments and disclaimers of his star athletes. Or it would be too disruptive to do otherwise. To Calabar’s athletics programme, we assume. Especially on the eve of the annual Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships.

It is understandable, in the circumstances, how Mr Rowe, the school’s acting principal, made such a hash of this affair and explains the yawning gaps in his account of events.

The incident in which the athletes stormed the room where Mr Shaw was holding a camp for physics students happened on December 15, and two students were eventually suspended for a week, on March 13, having initially been given a slap-on-the-wrist suspension. Either action came in the wake of agitation by Mr Shaw.

It is well known that star athletes at Jamaican high schools often get privileges not afforded to other students. We can’t claim that the same applies at Calabar, a school founded by the Baptist Church. But it perhaps says something that according to Mr Shaw, when he first complained about the alleged assault, he was informed by a top official that the athletes were ambassadors and asked whether he wanted the suspension of “ambassadors”.

Mr Rowe says that the reprimand he issued to the students was for disobeying the direct instruction of the teacher not to enter the classroom and not for the alleged assault, of which there were conflicting accounts between students and teacher, noting that the teacher had failed to deliver promised video footage.

Indeed, he has made much of this video and the presumed tardiness in its delivery. He suggested that it is inconclusive. There are, however, questions about whether evidence from physics students in the room, who should have witnessed the altercation, was pertinent and whether it was sought, and what weight was given to their interpretation of events.

STAND ON PRINCIPLE

Further, it seems that either Mr Rowe, in the first instance, displayed poor judgement in his deciding to only deliver a “severe reprimand” to the students, or he lacked conviction in the efficacy or justness of his action that, later, in the face of “Mr Shaw’s dissatisfaction”, “upon further reflection, I decided to go further” in his disciplinary action despite the testimonies of the students remaining unchanged. Two students were suspended for five days.

There were, however, caveats to the suspension. It was, many people, including this newspaper, will argue, a partial suspension. At least one of the students was allowed on the school compound to train and compete for final development meet before Champs.

Said Mr Rowe: “It ought to be noted that both punitive measures were aimed at addressing a matter of disobedience to a teacher’s directive, and not for assault, which … we could not validate independently and with sufficient conviction.”

The Calabar issue has not only reopened the long-standing debate over the tension that exists between the relative weight given to sporting and academic excellence in Jamaican high schools and the privileges that usually attend being good at the former; but it also represents a teacher moment. A case study that should be available to teachers’ colleges of poor management of disciplinary matters.

Mr Shaw, we expect, will be made to feel like a traitor and be shunted to the periphery of Calabar’s affairs. That would be a shame, for by all accounts, he is a good teacher. And very important, he stands for principle – demonstrated by his courage in pursuing this affair and his reported declining offers of money to let it go.