Tue | Apr 7, 2020

No karate school - JTA boss backs non-lethal weapons for teachers but cautions against promoting self-defence training

Published:Thursday | February 20, 2020 | 12:26 AMChristopher Thomas and Jason Cross/Gleaner Writers
Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.
Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.


Jamaica Teachers’ Association President Owen Speid is lobbying for the arming of teachers with non-lethal weapons like pepper spray to fend off attacks from students and others but is resistant to the promotion of official training in self-defence.

Speid believes that offering teachers self-defence training could cause violent clashes to escalate instead of defuse conflicts. He has advocated for more security guards, enhanced surveillance, and stronger security protocols in reducing altercations between faculty, students, and parents.

“The minute you train people for self-defence, they may sometimes act out of poor judgement, and they may believe that they can turn defence into attack. That, I think, is a dangerous thing, and they may end up attacking people and making things worse,” Speid told The Gleaner.

“I would say arm yourselves in terms of having pepper spray and other legal items that are allowed, but I prefer to look at having security cameras and trained security personnel in place because schools are not supposed to be battlefields or war zones.”

His comments come against the background of the increasing incidence of violence in schools, the latest occurring at Oracabessa High in St Mary, where the dean of discipline was reportedly floored by a student.

A teacher at the school who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media alleged that the dean was reprimanding the male student when he came under attack. The teacher sustained injuries and was taken away for medical attention.

Classes were discontinued, The Gleaner understands, and teachers are planning to stay off the job.

“He was overpowered by the student. As a result of that, my colleagues are upset and feel unsafe in the institution.

“Based on the history, students are given the right and are allowed back to school after issues like this. What my colleagues are saying is that they do not want the students to return,” he said.

The Gleaner understands that the police were summoned to the institution and reports recorded.

However, when the Oracabessa Police Station was contacted, a Sergeant Garrick declined comment before hanging up the phone.

The student in question was said to be part of the Career Advancement Programme.

“These students are incorporated with the day students, and our teachers teach them as well. They do technical subjects, and these students are second-chance students.”

There are fears that the teachers will mount a protest “until the issue of security personnel has been addressed and until we get a proper directive as to what will become of the student”.

“We don’t plan to teach today,” the teacher said.

On Tuesday, principal of Homestead Primary in St Catherine, Sophia Deer, and a student reportedly got into a brawl in her office. The child is believed to have sustained swelling to the face, and the principal has gone on sick leave.

However, while Speid views de-escalating conflict as the preferred route, incidents such as Monday’s invasion of Eltham High School in St Catherine by armed men, in defence of an aggrieved student, are continued cause for concern.

Since the breach, the school has hired additional guards, which the school administration hopes will be enough to keep the population safe from attacks.

“We have put things behind us and have increased the security aspect with five additional security personnel. We can have them fully patrol the compound,” Barrington Mighton, the school’s principal, told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

During his tenure, then Education Minister Ruel Reid encouraged teachers to be prepared to protect themselves while also advising them to exercise emotional intelligence in such circumstances.

During a recent press conference in Kingston last week, Speid gave the Ministry of Education a 30-day deadline to submit a plan of action to curb violence in schools.

Since last November, there has been a significant spike in incidents of school violence, especially in St James. There have been at least six reported attacks on teachers in the western parish, including two in which teachers suffered injuries. Cornwall College has featured in two incidents and Corinaldi Avenue Primary in three. In the other incident, a teacher from Dumfries Primary School was briefly hospitalised after she was attacked by a parent.