This newspaper laments the worsening conduct of students in Jamaica's schools, too often aided or abetted by unthinking parents.
Indeed, we support the programme that places police personnel at schools where the breakdown of discipline is so bad and the risk of violence - internally or externally generated - so great, to be beyond the scope of the schools management. In such circumstances, there is capacity for intervention by the so-called school resource officers (SROs) - the police.
But for such a project to produce effective and long-term value, it has to be managed with great deftness, ensuring the balance between enforcing normal school discipline and the use of the formal legal system, including interventions by SROs.
Intemperate action by an SRO can be counterproductive, running the risk of prematurely escalating minor school infractions into criminal conduct, hardening rude, undisciplined youngsters into wanton bad men.
It is this kind of intemperance we perceive to have been at play on Tuesday at Cornwall College, a secondary school in Montego Bay, when perhaps 15 boys were taken into custody and taken to the Freeport Police Station. Apparently, the boys were all grade 10 students, which would probably put them in the 15-16 age group.
The police may have acted on a student's complaint that his backpack with books and other effects was stolen. At the police station, the lawmen may have addressed the boys on matters of "discipline, education and personal development". We nonetheless remain disturbed by the incident.
Theft, clearly, is an arrestable offence. What, however, is not immediately clear is who requested the police's intervention and the basis for going that route. In the absence of other, more compelling particulars, the action, in the context of a school environment, seems excessive and potentially harmful.
On the face of it, the action presumed, or left the impression, that the boys who were taken into custody were part of a criminal conspiracy to steal the bag, thus eliminating possibility of a schoolboy prank.
But even if there was outright theft, to which the police say one boy confessed, the carting away of the students appeared to have more than a twinge of collective punishment; even if that was only to frighten the guilty party into confession, or to have those who were innocent to identify the thief.
While we welcome the Cornwall College board chairman's condemnation, in today's front-page story, of the humiliating detention of the students, it raises questions about what, prior to the police intervention, was done by the school officials - the form teacher, the dean of discipline and the headmaster - to resolve the issue. Mr Denham McIntyre, the principal of Cornwall College, must say whether the intervention by the police was considered by the school authorities to be the last resort, and if so, what was the basis for arriving at that conclusion.
The point is that it is not every incident at school, including theft, should become a police matter. Astute principals call on good judgement in determining what can be resolved internally and what demands the intervention of the law.
If the police become the primary source of discipline in schools, rather than in the case of extreme and usually violent behaviour, it will soon diminish the authority of teachers, at which point we might just turn our schools into boot camps.
Again, deftness and balance are necessary in the school security and safety project.
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