Sat | Aug 18, 2018

Rhonda Williams | Stamp out culture of indiscipline

Published:Sunday | October 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMRhonda Williams

I am mortified by the complete deficit of nuance and context in response to the actions taken by St Catherine High School to reprimand the students who have brought the image of their school into disrepute.

The most recent onslaught on discipline was published in this newspaper on Tuesday, October 10, 2017. The commentary, written by Patria-Kaye Aarons, was titled 'Suspend school suspensions'.

The writer is seemingly misguided or has wilfully decided to contribute the cesspool of ignorant rants that have been making the rounds on different social-media forums in response to the school's actions. It is for this reason I deem it necessary to provide clarity of context and justification for the actions taken by St Catherine High and other schools that reprimand in like manner for similar offences.

The writer laments that suspensions are "frivolous", "they don't impress upon the offending child what they did wrong", "they don't really encourage behavioural change" and "suspensions put children in harm's way".

To address the first concern, when a group of students decide to post a video of themselves on social media, in their uniform, on the school compound, partaking in a less-than-admirable activity with lewd and crude lyrics (unless as a society we have erased every sense of wrong and right from our social norms), such demeanour is unquestionably wrong.

I challenge the writer to identify one case of suspension where the student and his/her parent/s were not informed by school officials of the reason for the suspension.

Second, the very reason a suspension is issued is because of the occurrence of bad behaviour. Since nobody likes suspensions, it is very clear that to avoid being suspended again, said bad behaviour should not recur. Might I add that schools offer guidance and counselling prior to suspension.

Last, when students are suspended, they are released into the care of their parents, who are now responsible to find alternative scheduling for them during the time they are out of school. Children being left unsupervised at home is not a matter to be addressed by school administrators. That is a matter to be addressed by parents.

Ms Aarons' commentary did not accurately weigh the context and magnitude of the offence committed by the students in the video. The egregious trivialising and oversimplifying of the offence is alarming.

The students were not suspended simply because they used a "curse word". They were suspended because they participated in an inappropriate activity that has brought them, their parents and the entire school community (including past students) into disrepute. That is not a matter to be taken lightly. It doesn't simply warrant a detention.

The crudeness displayed in the video is evident, as the writer euphemised the obscenity of the activity by referring to it as the 'D-challenge. Had it been so simple, this newspaper and the writer should be able to refer to this challenge by its official name.

Suspensions of this nature are not unique to schools, but are present in every organisation that operates on principles and values. Athletes are suspended from participating at events when they break the rules, intentionally or not. Even Miss Kitty and Yanique were suspended after their spat on live TV in Season 9 of Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall.




Therefore, the school's reaction to the offence was fully justifiable. It is expected that their parents were called in and it be made clear that such infractions must never be repeated and that greater penalty will follow should this happen again.

Ms Aarons spoke passionately about schools using more alternatives to suspension to discipline students, but she must understand the relationship between penalty and offence.

A student cannot commit a gross offence and be disciplined with a minor penalty. Community service, internal suspensions, demerits and detentions are penalties for minor infractions. It cannot be expected that if a student intentionally causes harm to another student, they are sanctioned with community service.

There are some offences that warrant a zero-tolerance approach to indicate to students that this type of behaviour will not be accepted at any time. Such sanction will act as a deterrent to future misconduct and will likely prevent the perpetuation of certain offences.

For example, at my school, there is a zero-tolerance approach to graffiti on walls. As a result, our walls stay graffiti free.

It is a policy of the Ministry of Education that a zero-tolerance approach be meted out for involvement in gang activity and for possession of a weapon. Some schools may enforce a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, gambling, extortion and fighting. These offences, if not controlled, can become a danger to school safety. The case at St Catherine High School could potentially grow into a consequence-free offence had the administrators not responded with draconian action.

It is a sad state of affairs when adults who claim to love children sympathise with this type of behaviour. It is rather ironic that those labelling the school's action as "harsh" have not once mentioned the damage these students have done to themselves by leaving an undesirable digital footprint that will haunt them as long as the Internet exists. Within the course of my duties, I have met so many students who have expressed regret for their behaviour in the past, as it has come back to haunt them. Sympathisers of bad behaviour are contributing to the further advancement of a consequence-free society promoted by a culture of indiscipline.

We cannot want to hang criminals who are products of this malfunctioning society if we are afraid to suspend students for bad behaviour.

- Rhonda Williams has a bachelor's in language education and a Master of Arts in cultural studies.

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