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Report sexual predators or face law, Thwaites tells school heads

Published:Friday | May 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell and Alessandro Boyd, Staff Reporters

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has sent a strong message to the leadership of schools across the country that if they "knowingly or negligently" fail to report predatory sexual behaviour of a teacher towards a student, they would also be held culpable for such an offence as stated in law.

And the head of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools has thrown her full support behind the minister's firm stance, arguing that principals should be held accountable if they choose to turn a blind eye to such reprehensible conduct.

Commenting on concerns raised by Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison about some teachers who have been reported for sexual grooming, Thwaites was blunt, charging that any instance of predatory behaviour toward students is a criminal matter and "must be reported to the police immediately by the appropriate authorities of the school".

"I want to say, we have had reports, and where those reports have reached us, we have acted decisively," Thwaites said in response to questions on the issue yesterday at a post-Sectoral Debate press conference at Jamaica House.

Malicious accusations

However, the education minister cautioned that sometimes "malicious people accuse teachers of things" that cannot be substantiated. "It is terribly wrong to take set against somebody you don't like and conflate some innocent gesture or action as being sexual predation."

Heather Murray, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, contended that in situations where a teacher is accused of being a sexual predator, the matter should be reported immediately and the teacher dismissed following investigations.

"We are aware that there are cases like that within the schools, and we absolutely support the minister. We have to protect the children at all costs," Murray said.

The National Parent Teachers Association of Jamaica has called on the authorities to fast-track plans for the establishment of a database on teachers who prey upon students sexually.

President of the Parent Teachers Association, Everton Hannam, said the group was alarmed at the reports.

Gordon-Harrison reported on Tuesday that some members of the teaching profession were sending suggestive and provocative text messages to their students. She also revealed that teaching professionals had been reported for engaging in physical sexual contact with their students.