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Officials troubled by threats to students outside of school

Published:Monday | November 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

While there has been a decline in incidents of violence in schools, an emerging trend of students being attacked outside of learning institutions is causing great worry for officials at the Ministry of Education.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Coleridge Minto, director of safety and security in schools at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, told The Gleaner that students have been encountering dangerous incidents that will require urgent solutions.

"There has been a general decline of violence and critical incidents in schools since 2012. The figures are still trending downwards in schools. However, attacks on students outside of school remain a major concern," Minto said in an emailed response to queries from The Gleaner.

"Since the start of this school year, we have received only a few reports of in-school violence. Almost all the matters that are being discussed are matters of students being attacked while travelling to, or from, school. The matters relate to attacks on students outside of school."

He said bus parks, transport centres, and other popular areas for large gatherings are posing the greatest risks for schoolchildren.

"There have been students who have been robbed in and around the Half-Way Tree area and transport centre. So we are concerned as students travel to, and from, schools, as well as the public spaces that they occupy waiting for transportation, such as at bus parks," he said.

"We have had recent reports of criminals breaking into schools' tuck shops and, therefore, one can appreciate that safety and security of students, staff and property is of high priority to the ministry," he said.

In the meantime, the superintendent noted that schools continue to be affected by gangs in communities - an issue he believes will require a great effort from various stakeholders.

He also said vending remains an issue, but quickly pointed out that there are legitimate persons in the trade, noting that there are many schools that have a workable model for vendors.

"Schools are located in communities, and many times the gang violence seriously affects the smooth operating of the school. In one incident in St James, in the middle of the school day and in the vicinity of a primary school, men from rival gangs traded gunfire for more than 45 minutes. The principal and team activated the critical incident management plan, contained the young children, and awaited the arrival of the police to give clearance before dismissal," he declared.