Our students need protection from attacks, western principals say
Following the stabbing death of Jamaica College student Nicholas Francis during a robbery on a bus in October and subsequent reports of similar attacks on other students, some principals in western Jamaica have acknowledged the need for stricter safety measures for their students.
Clyde Evans, principal of Petersfield High School in Westmoreland, and Donna-Marie Redway, principal of the Montego Bay High School for Girls in St James, told Western Focus that their respective institutions do all they can to warn their students against any practices that could make them targets for robbers while going to and from school.
"We work closely with the police, and we are safe so far in that none of our students have been subjected to any form of attack," said Evans. "But we as a school and as a society can only continue to appeal to our good-thinking citizens to help us to protect our children where their movements and safety are concerned."
Redway said: "The most we can do is to sensitise our girls and remind them, and implore them, to be a little more conscious, to not walk with the cellphones on the road. The appeal has to be made to the police to be more vigilant in their patrols because we cannot control the girls when they go out on the street."
There was public outcry following the death of Nicholas Francis, a 14-year-old third-form student at Jamaica College who was attacked on October 26 after he boarded a Coaster bus in the vicinity of Blue Castle Drive on Old Hope Road in St Andrew. His assailant stabbed him in the chest and hand and then threw him from the bus after Nicholas resisted the robber's demand to hand over his cell phone.
A spate of attacks on students, especially outside the bounds of their schools, is not new. Prior to the attack on Francis, students of the Denbigh High School in Clarendon were robbed in September, and in November 2014, it was reported that students from St George's College, Kingston College, and Holy Trinity High School had been targeted by thieves.
Asked about her own students' level of safety, Redway admitted that there had been four instances in September alone, where robbers had preyed on Montego Bay High students.
"There have been four cases in September since the start of this school year. We had a case where the man insisted that the girl should go into her bag, and she said, 'I don't have a phone,' and he said, 'Give me your phone,' and he had a knife, and she had the same type of phone the little boy (Nicholas Francis) had, and he did not want it," Redway recounted. "There was another situation where a girl was using her phone, and the man walked up to her with a knife, and she handed it over."
Redway continued: "It is a depraved society because why would you want to steal a child's phone? But the police are stretched, and they tell us that with all the crime in the area, they have bigger fish to fry ... but something needs to happen."
Meanwhile, Evans said that resource constraints have prevented his institution from taking on greater measures to ensure student safety such as a school-bus system.
"To be able to put something in place, that would be a challenge as it relates to the variety of communities that students come from and our limited resources. We would have loved to be able to have a bus that would be able to go as close to certain communities as possible, but unfortunately, we do not have that facility," said Evans.
"We talk to our students, we encourage them, we tell them, 'Do not travel with taxis you do not know Travel in groups, Be aware of your situation and surroundings. Do not stand in lonely areas while waiting for a drive.' We can only continue to pray and hope for the best," Evans added.
In the meantime, Superintendent of the Hanover police Arthel Colly warned that students in that parish should avoid lonely areas, to prevent themselves from becoming targets for criminals.
"I would warn students against going over by the beach area at Lucea, at the area near Watson Taylor Park near Rusea's High School, as it is lonely in the evening hours," said Colly. "I would also warn about the Old Steamer Beach. As it relates to the students going to Hopewell High, I would advise they avoid that beach after evening hours."