Principals bemoan the lack of perimeter fencing at schools across the island
Tyrone Reid, Senior Reporter
Despite the lamentations of many principals, Jamaica's Ministry of Education has not been able to solve the perimeter-fencing problem that has plagued schools for years.
The matter was placed back on the front burner last week when a gunman invaded a St Catherine-based school through an unfenced area, and sexually assaulted three female students.
But even before the latest incident, principals used a round table hosted by The Sunday Gleaner at its North Street offices to point to the issue as one of the pressing concerns facing schools.
One principal called on the Ministry of Education to remedy the lack of protection being offered to students, faculty and school property.
"We wish that, for the many schools that have problems with their perimeter fencing, the ministry could find some way to deal with that because there are very many schools that have that problem," said Lorenzo Ellis, principal of Haile Selassie High School, one of the many educational institutions that do not have that protective barrier.
Ellis revealed that his school has been broken into in the past.
"It raises problems of safety and security at the school because people can just walk in. You must have some borders. You must have some structure, even though we still believe that you have to collaborate with the people in the community because you can have a wall that is 50 feet high and the school is still broken into, (and) you could have no wall and the school is not broken into," Ellis emphasised.
Stanford Davis, president of the Association of Principals and Vice-Principals (APVP) and principal of May Day High School, told The Sunday Gleaner that the lack of perimeter fencing is a major issue that a number of principals have complained about.
"Even when we spoke to persons from the NEI (National Education Inspectorate), that's a challenge that most schools that don't have fencing complain about because it is not only about security in terms of criminality but in terms of the safety of students. While it may not prevent persons from coming in the night to break into the school, it prevents students from leaving school and persons from coming to injure them," said Davis.
The APVP president noted that the education ministry is trying to install fencing incrementally, and has asked schools to find innovative ways to raise funds to remedy the malady.
Angela Chaplain, principal of Vauxhall High School, told our news team that when she first took job at Vauxhall there was no perimeter fencing, and on her first sports day she met a shocker.
"I walked up and (people from the) community were all in the sports day. It was the first I am seeing a chillum pipe, (people were) smoking ganja and whatever, and there were issues when people came on the compound during the day and one or two cases where they molested our girls," she said.
The school has since installed a perimeter fence.
"Only helicopter can come over it because it is very, very high. It had to be high," said Chaplain.
Heather Murray, principal of Hampton School and president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, said while her school is fenced, principals who are members of the association she heads have complained about the lack of protection for the school and students.
Murray said the matter is one that has to be addressed urgently based on changes in the Jamaican society.
"I cringe because in my time we didn't have that. We simply had an open (concept) and you know the boundaries for the wall. Things have changed and you have to move with the times, and I do think it is important," said Murray.
700 SCHOOLS WITHOUT FENCING
Meanwhile, Maureen Dwyer, CEO and chief inspector at the National Education Inspectorate (NEI), told our news team that a number of the more than 700 schools inspected so far by the inspectorate are without perimeter fencing.
However, Dwyer said this is not always a problem. "It depends on where the school is located and how well the community takes care of the school," said the NEI boss.
"In some areas, the schools are unfenced and the community members do not walk through the school or parade their animals through the school," noted Dwyer,
"In other areas," she continued, "the schools are fenced but that protective barrier is breached by community members who use the school as thoroughfare.
"We don't always interpret the lack of fencing the same way the schools does," said Dwyer.
She explained that the NEI has recommended that some of the schools it has inspected be fenced, and others that also did not have perimeter fencing did not receive a similar recommendation because the community did not pose an immediate threat to the school property, faculty or students.