Sun | Apr 30, 2017

Searching for the truth in 11-year-old's death

Published:Tuesday | September 22, 2015 | 9:00 AMRyon Jones

There are conflicting reports coming out of preliminary investigations by the Child Development Agency (CDA) and those at the helm of Prickly Pole Primary and Infant School in Bensonton, St Ann, following the sudden death of an 11-year-old student at the institution last Friday.

The child, who was originally said to be Octavia Smith, but has now been identified based on her birth certificate as Akella Lewis, is reported to have been among children who were to be used in a protest against member of parliament for South East St Ann, Lisa Hanna, when she took ill and died.

Preliminary investigations by the CDA have confirmed that children were taken from the school and used in a demonstration.

"CDA officers personally witnessed children in uniforms holding up placards with political slogans. These children were identified as students from the Prickly Pole Primary and Infant School," a press release from the agency read in part.

According to the CDA, buses arrived at the school compound to take children, but they were not initially allowed to leave by school personnel.

"The buses left empty but would later return with parents and relatives of the children and also included the board chairman of the school and Councillor Vinnette Robb Oddman," the release stated.

It is said that Akella was among 20 students who boarded the bus but she fell ill and had to be taken off. She reportedly became unresponsive and the school's principal was alerted, but attempts to revive her were futile.

"This incident raises serious questions as to whether the best interest of the children was being upheld by the adults who visited the school."

'Misleading and reckless'

But in a press release of their own, the principal and board of the school have labelled statements by Hanna and Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites, blaming the child's death on the planned political protest, as "misleading and reckless". They have called a press conference for today to include the child's mother with the aim of setting the record straight.

"What happened to the child was an isolated incident and one that had nothing to do with any protest. In fact, the youngster had a heart condition and had developed complications while at school on at least one other occasion," the press release from the school's hierarchy read.

The release by the school's board further explained that the planned demonstration in the constituency by parents, teachers and residents was to protest claims made by Hanna that nearly $3 million was spent on paving the schoolyard at Prickly Pole Primary and Infant School - work they say was never done.

"Minister Hanna, who knew that the protest was aimed at her and her failure to answer questions relating to the nearly $3 million that she said was spent to pave the schoolyard of Prickly Pole Primary and Infant School, and which there is no evidence of any work being done, took the opportunity to create a smokescreen/distraction to avoid answering questions," the school board release claimed.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com