Principals under pressure - School administrators say unruly students leave them with little choice
Amid concerns that expulsions and suspensions are becoming too commonplace at Jamaica's schools, some principals say they are challenged to find other means of disciplining disruptive students who are sometimes in need of extraordinary interventions to improve their behaviour.
According to new president of the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals, Ottis Brown, the classroom is becoming an increasingly difficult environment to control.
"The school system is a very complex one. The teaching situation on a daily basis is not very easy at all. If some persons were just to take a walk in and see what we experience in some of our schools, it would be shocking, but we still press on in the name of education and in the best interest of each child," Brown told the Sunday Gleaner.
"Principals and teachers need help. Some children have serious disciplinary issues and we (need to) remember that these educators are not behavioural specialists. They are not trained in behavioural modification and all of those things to deal with some critical issues that we face on a daily basis," added Brown.
Principal of the Edith Dalton James High School, Orlando Worges, said the reality is that some principals have very limited options at their disposal to rehabilitate problem students.
"One of the recommendations of the Ministry of Education is that of internal suspension, which is an alternative where you do community service instead of putting the child out there," said Worges.
He explained that this type of suspension requires that a child commits to carrying out particular tasks for an allotted number of hours under the supervision of a teacher. These tasks are carried out outside of the regular school hours.
"Those are strategies that we use, which take a toll also on your human resource because teachers will have to go to classes; teachers have to plan for classes for teaching and learning because that is the primary function of schools," added Worges.
The Kingston 20-based school was transformed into a crime scene last month, after a grade 10 student stabbed another to death during a physical altercation.
"With what is happening in our society today, although the government clearly said they can't afford it, there is a need for schools to have social workers and more resource persons to deal with the maladaptive behaviour that is coming from the society into the schools," said Worges.
"We continue to teach children about their rights, but we don't teach them much about their responsibilities, and we need to start training more responsible citizens," he lamented.
Peter McIsaac, who is a member of the board and the disciplinary committee for a newly upgraded high school, noted that the stress level in the classrooms today is extraordinary.
"You can't imagine what a principal faces within a day," said McIsaac, who had chaired the board for four high schools, one primary school and an infant school in the past.
"I think that principals are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation," argued McIsaac.
Recently, Richard Troupe, training and investigating officer in the Safety and Security Unit at the Ministry of Education, confirmed reports reaching The Sunday Gleaner that a number of students were being expelled and suspended from schools across the island without due process.
Troupe told a Gleaner Editors' Forum that many of these suspensions and expulsions were not reported to the ministry.
Advocacy manager at Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), Rodje Malcolm, echoed Troupe's concerns, as he said the lobby group has received complaints regarding the nature of the sanctions being meted out to students.
"JFJ is seriously concerned about reports of students being suspended or expelled for minor infractions and without due process," said Malcolm.
Similar concerns were raised by President of the National Secondary Students' Council, Antonette Dennis, who last month called on school administrators to review their disciplinary practices following the five-day suspension of a group of students from the St Catherine High School.
The students were shut out of classes for their participation in a raunchy social-media challenge in October.