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School lockouts spark debate

Published:Tuesday | September 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Camperdown High School students showed up late for school and were locked out of the compound yesterday.
Dozens of Camperdown High students who showed up late for school were locked out of the compound yesterday. Several schools have decided to shut the gates on students who arrive late for lessons or breach the dress code. - Norman Grindley/ Chief Photographer
Camperdown High School students showed up late for school and were locked out of the compound yesterday.

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

The move by two Corporate Area high schools yesterday to lock out dozens of students who showed up late and were in breach of the dress code has drawn fresh attention to some of the punitive measures being used by school administrators to curb the escalating problems.

For nearly two hours, students from Camperdown and Dunoon Park Technical high schools who had lined up outside the east Kingston-based compounds were denied entry by school staff and security guards.

This approach, according to some school administrators, is just one of several forms of punishment meted out to students who are increasingly showing scant regard for punctuality or the way they are attired for learning.

Other punitive measures include suspension, detentions and the assigning of demerit points.

Ruel Reid, principal of Jamaica College, said that he has had to demonstrate tough love at the all-boy institution. He recalled the backlash he faced from angry parents who accused him of trying to deny their children of an education.

"My position has always been, yes, you have a right to this education, but to access that right, you need to be disciplined," he stressed.

"I don't want to produce educated criminals. I want to produce educated young men that are going to contribute positively to the society and the world," Reid emphasised.

Principal of Ardenne High, Nadine Molloy, told The Gleaner she tries to use the power of persuasion, but conceded that there is a demerit points system in place for students who are habitually late without good reason.

"We are trying to instil in them the kinds of values that they will need in the work world," Molloy explained.

Training for life

Principal of Porus High School, Michael Stewart, noted that "it's a training for life that we are inculcating in our students".

However, while making it clear that he does not condone indiscipline by students or parents, Everton Hannam, the president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica, argued that locking out students was a counterproductive strategy that also raises safety and security concerns.

"When you lock out the children ... they are not going to go back home. They are going to roam the streets," Hannam warned.

"You allow them in, you find a holding area, and you keep them there until the issues are resolved," he suggested to school administrators.

Executive director of the National Parenting Commission, Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman, agreed, questioning whether school administrators have security measures in place for students after they are locked out.

"Are you on the phone calling everybody's parents because the school must ensure the safety of the students they have locked out," Charles-Freeman told The Gleaner.

Yesterday, the education ministry sought to explain that in cases where students are late they are not considered to be in the care of the school staff.

"If the school says you must be there at 7 [o'clock] and you come at 7:30, then there is no handing over," said Byron Buckley, the director of communications at the ministry.

"So you can't be saying it is the responsibility of the school, because you really haven't handed them over to the school as yet," Buckley added.

Dr Charles-Freeman also noted that parents have a responsibility to ensure that their children follow school guidelines.

"They must be aware that if they do not follow the rules and regulations of the school then the school has the right to enforce the consequences," she said.