October 8, 2013

Could the SJCK matter not have been settled out of court?

Tue Oct 8, 2013

It is unfortunate that what should have been a simple disciplinary matter, handled discreetly within the education system, has blown up into a high profile court case.{{more}}

Every day, hundreds of children within our school system deviate from the behaviour expected of them. And every day, administrators and teachers within the system, take actions of varying degrees, to try to correct that behaviour.

Very rarely does one hear, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, of a parent bringing court action against the education system, for what, to our education administrators, must have been a very routine course of action, that of transferring a child from one school to another.

So shocking was the action taken by the parent that it has, over the past two weeks, triggered sporadic displays of militancy by educators and parents, and even students, as was observed at the St Joseph’s Convent yesterday. Throughout the impasse, Ministry of Education officials and the principals of our nation’s secondary schools have all stood in solidarity with principal of the St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown (SJCK) Calma Balcombe. Our educators are understandably fighting to ensure that this matter does not result in a break- down in discipline throughout the entire education system.

What seems to be overshadowed in all of this, however, is the effect of everything that has been happening on the child in question. It cannot be healthy for a child to go through what this particular teenage girl has, over the past few weeks. Her parent must not have foreseen this reaction when she made the decision to retain a lawyer to fight her case. No loving parent would want their child to experience something like this. Could this matter not have been settled through mediation, rather than court action?

The placards displayed by some of the students of the SJCK yesterday were particularly troubling. While some justifiably spoke of the need for discipline and justice and for the school to settle down to the business of teaching and learning, there were other placards which insensitively told the child to get out. One wonders if the teachers could not have vetted those signs before they were displayed to the public. We hope that the child was not at school yesterday, to witness rejection of such mammoth proportion. No matter the child’s prior behaviour, she is still a child, whose interests must be protected at all times.

Adolescents have very fragile senses of self and it is imperative that the Ministry of Education and the parent immerse this child, who even prior to the protest action, was obviously troubled, in a very intensive counselling programme as soon as possible. Hopefully, when all of this is over, we – children, parents, teachers, lawyers, judges – would have all learnt several lessons about how to approach matters like this.