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Thursday 24th November 2011

Education, Sports, Youth and Gender Affairs Minister, Dr. the Hon. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro on Wednesday addressed the House of Representatives during which she announced a zero tolerance to violence in schools policy.

The Minister’s comments came against the backdrop of a major violent incident that took place at a secondary school on the island, during which several students were injured by other students brandishing a cutlass, knives and scissors.

Among the measures introduced by the Honourable Minister to curb the rise in violence in schools is the collaboration with the Ministry of National Security in re-introducing a National Cadet Corps into all Secondary schools to bring about some measure of discipline, regimentation, civic responsibility and team-spiritedness.

We reproduce below, the full text of the Minister’s presentation in the House of Representatives:

Statement in Parliament-
“ Zero Tolerance to violence in schools”
Wednesday 16th November; 2011
Dr. Hon. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, M.P
Minister of Education, Sports, Youth & Gender Affairs.

Madame Speaker there is an urgent matter which I would like to share with this Honourable House and by extension the nation of Antigua and Barbuda as it relates to my Ministry.

On Friday, 4th November 2011 at about 12:15pm there was a major incident at the Ottos Comprehensive School. A group of boys from the school, one wielding a cutlass, two with knives and another armed with a pair of scissors, created mayhem. Teachers, parents and students scampered for cover as the student who brandished the cutlass chopped at another ultimately cornering him in the Secretary’s office (the main reception area at the school) further chopping him in several places. This student sustained several wounds about his body including his head, hand, and back. He (the victim) had a pair of scissors that he used to stab his attacker in the head somewhere in the brawl.

The secretary had to run into the inner office to safety while the female Principal cowered in a corner hoping that she might be spared serious harm. There was blood everywhere. Two male teachers tried desperately to restrain the attacker and prevent further bloodshed.

There were several related fights on the compound then. One student was kicked a couple of times about the body then stomped in the face breaking his teeth. The extremely brutal afternoon appeared to be gang related. It was reported that the altercation started between the two major offenders at a night-club on Independence Day; Tuesday 1stNovember. Law Enforcement Officials and personnel from the Emergency Medical Services had to be summoned to the compound. No amount of talking to and physical restraint by the principal and teachers could quell the students’ anger and determination to do bodily harm and draw blood.

The principal, teachers and other students were quite unsettled and understandably so. This incident led to brief industrial action by the teachers. Among other things, the Ministry of Education sought and obtained police presence at the school.

In keeping with the rules of the Ottos Comprehensive School and the Education Act 2008, the students were immediately placed on suspension. A careful investigation was conducted by the Ministry of Education last week and continuing earlier this week. At the end of the investigation it was determined that the circumstances warranted the expulsion of six (6) students in accordance with Division 5: 54 (1) (e) of the Education Act. It is important to note that not a single one of these students expressed any remorse at what had happened. One student was bold enough to tell us that he would give his life for his friend. He would do it again.

The said Act, in the previous section (53), speaks of gross misconduct which may be considered a risk or danger to members of staff and to other students. It was commonly felt that in addition to their barbaric display, the continued attendance at the Ottos Comprehensive School of these young men who have all passed the age of sixteen years is likely to have an adverse effect upon the good order and proper discipline at the school.

The Ministry of Education has determined that it will institute a zero tolerance policy on deviant conduct at the Ottos Comprehensive School and all other secondary schools in Antigua/Barbuda. In the wake of any outrageous misconduct, the requisite penalties as outlined in the Education Act of 2008 will be slavishly applied.

Madame Speaker; I have heard some criticism about our decision to station the Police at Ottos Comprehensive; with some people asking “who will be left to fight crime in the society if the Police are at schools? Well, let me state here, schools are part of our society and a very integral part at that. And if there is crime in our schools, who best to deal with crime than the Police? I would like those who criticize, who say the Principal and teachers must deal with it; to put themselves in the shoes of the staff at OCS when without due regard to the Principal, teachers and fellow students those young men were behaving like “raging bulls” and could not be controlled, could not be persuaded to let reason and rationality prevail.

If there are thugs in school, who best to deal with cutlass-toting, knife-wielding criminally minded young men; than the Police? Crime in our society and crime in our schools must be dealt with by Law enforcement, not by teachers. This is now a matter before the Courts and we hope that justice will prevail. And we cannot and must not divorce our schools from “the society”.

As Minister of Education; I make AB-SO-LUTE-LY no apologies for collaborating with the Police and the Ministry of National Security in allowing the Police to be stationed at the school and conducting random searches of the bags of students.

And I want to also share with the nation; two days after we had the Police at OCS, two young men got into altercations with the Police. They refused to let officers search their bags; and when the officer insisted, they assaulted the Police. Can you imagine that: they had such little regard or respect for the Law enforcement that they bluntly refused to be subjected to a search and more than that pushed and shoved the officers. THEY TOO HAVE BEEN EXPELLED.

The message of the Ministry of Education is clear, and unequivocal: We are not going to tolerate violence of any sort in school. We have taken a Zero-tolerance approach and henceforward let it be known throughout the length and breadth of the entire population: students will be held accountable for their actions. Students who bring deadly weapons to school; be it gun, knife, cutlass, scissors or any such; you will be deemed to be a threat to your peers and teachers; and YOU WILL BE EXPELLED. Students who behave violently and get into fights and cause brawls such as the one at OCS; bringing others into harm and danger and in fear of their very lives; and in the process bringing disrepute to your institution; YOU WILL BE EXPELLED.

Madame Speaker Division 3:30: 4 of the Education Act 2008 states; and I quote:

“4) No student shall without the written permission of the Director of Education be retained in a public secondary school or an assisted private secondary school after the end of the school year in which he or she shall have reached the age of sixteen years.”

The Education Act mandates that all children have a right to an education up until age 16. What this is saying is that after age 16, you are there on the discretion of the Director of Education and the Ministry. Therefore if you are a student who is above the age of 16, you have to demonstrate that you have earned that privilege to continue to be in school. Because it is no longer a right. Therefore if you are bent on being thug-like, always fighting, giving trouble, smoking weed; not interested in school work; not interested in sports; disrespectful; lawless; you have no place in the school system. And we are not going to tolerate being held hostage to students with downright bad behaviour. All of the eight boys who were expelled are over the age of 16. Two of them, the cutlass-wielding one and the victim were both 19 years old. Others were 17 and 18 years.

What is the Way Forward? What recommendations/policies we are implementing:

1. Any child who brings a concealed weapon (knife, cutlass, scissors etc) to school not for the use in Arts, Craft, Agriculture Science, Technical drawing, Home Economics on the particular day in question etc. will face immediate expulsion as per division 5: 54 (1) (e) of the Education Act, 2008.

2. Any child who repeatedly fights, gets into brawls and causes mayhem and confusion of a violent nature on the school compound will face immediate expulsion as per Div. 5:54 (1) (e) of the Education Act, 2008.

3. All Parents who have school aged children are advised that they must become active members of the Parent Teachers Association. Get involved in the life of the school and in the education of your child.

4. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Security will collaborate to have unannounced spot checks by Law enforcement officers at any school, (public or private) at any time on the request of the Ministry of Education; the Principal of the school and the management of the school.

5. The Ministry of Education is collaborating with the Ministry of Social Transformation to have expelled students counseled by trained Counselors so that we are not simply expelling, but we are also following up with a series of psycho-social interventions to assist expelled students in areas such as conflict resolution, job searches; integrating into the community as young adults etc.

6. Even before this incident the Ministry was working with the local media on a series of Public Service Announcements which are aimed on sensitizing the general public on parental involvement and responsibility in education. These PSA’s have since been produced and will be broadcast later this week on all major radio stations.

7. The Ministry of Education will be collaborating with the Ministry of National Security in re-introducing a National Cadet Corps into all Secondary schools to bring about some measure of discipline, regimentation, civic responsibility and team-spiritedness.

8. All of our Secondary schools now have Counsellors; and we are recommending some special work be done with the Counsellors on issues such as anger management, conflict resolution, psycho-social interventions etc.

9. The final comment I wish to make Madam Speaker is that School is for those who want to learn and no other student has the right to disrupt the lives of other students or threaten the safety of teachers in any school. If you want to be a thug then you won’t have a second chance to do it on school time or property. What transpired at OCS should serve as a warning to other parents and students in all other schools across Antigua and Barbuda. Even if you are under the age of sixteen and you exhibit such criminal behavior you will be asked to leave the school. There is no place for violence and disrespect in our schools. We will not tolerate it.

10. If it pleases you Madam Speaker, I thank you for your indulgence in making this statement to this Honourable House.

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