Full Disclosure
September 1, 2006
Violence in schools

Excerpts of address delivered at the Campden Park Secondary School on 30th August, 2006 by Saboto S. Caesar on behalf of the Teachers’ Union

The matter at hand as it was aptly stated by the Teacher’s Union is “Violence in schools – What are the rights and responsibilities of Teachers”, or more simply put, what are the rights and responsibilities of teachers met with violence from students.

There are always those among us who will deviate and stray from the accepted path earmarked by the guidelines set down for us by society. That is the birthplace of violence. What has been happening in recent times is that for various reasons, which have engaged sociologists the world over, persons are falling into deviant subcultures at earlier ages. {{more}}Addressing the problems set in motion by some of these children is partly why we are here. You must know your rights as teachers if you are going to be able to protect yourself as a law-abiding citizen against any form of violence formulated and orchestrated by a student or group of students who desire to take toughness, smartness or excitement to a negative level.

So as we may say in common parlance, “Where do I stand as a teacher in all this?”

Violence has been suitably defined by Anthony Giddens, an American sociologist as being “The use, or threat, of physical force on the part of one individual or group towards another”. That is very much the working definition which I shall use to describe the violence with which we are presently concerned. So if we are to apply this definition to our present situation in the classroom, violence in the classroom from a student, can be described as any use or threat of physical force on the part of a student or group of students on a teacher or a group of teachers.

By way of introduction as it relates to the Laws of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, acts of violence against a person is covered both by the common law and in the form of Legislation in Chapter 124 of the Criminal Code of the Revised Laws of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1990. Specific mention will be made today however of only a few offences from the Criminal Code, namely, the sexual offence of rape and, offences against the person such as assault and battery.

One thing which must be noted, is that a teacher like any other citizen, once his or her legal right is violated by the criminal act of another can seek redress pursuant to the Criminal Code. There are no specific laws protecting teachers in a classroom, which are different from the laws protecting let’s say a sanitation worker cleaning a drain who encounters violence from a student. So if a teacher is raped by a student let’s say a juvenile, that student will be charged pursuant to the Criminal Code in no different a way from the charge which would have been made out against an adult who rapes a teacher. Save for the procedural aspect of the hearing where the juvenile offender’s matter would have to be heard in a juvenile court, your rights to seek redress for the violation of your person remains exactly the same. As it relates to punishment however, the juvenile would be punished pursuant to the Juvenile Offenders Act.

To my mind however, a teacher meets with simple offences against the person on a more regular basis than any other offence. I will now briefly explain the offences of assault and battery.

An assault is committed simply when someone places another in the situation where they can reasonably believe that there would be an immediate infliction of an unlawful force upon their person. Therefore, it is an offence for someone to threaten you to the extent that a reasonable person standing in your shoe would think that a force would be inflicted on them.

Battery on the other hand refers to the actual infliction of the unlawful force upon one’s person. Hence when you actually receive the infliction of force of any sort, then that may amount to battery.

Your rights as I have already said are clearly laid out in the criminal code for all the other offences. It is always your responsibility however to be assertive about your rights.

Your responsibilities on the other hand dictate that you act as the prudent teacher would in the circumstances. At all times you must be aware that your safety and the safety of the students must always be of first importance. In so doing all matters of violence should be reported to the necessary law enforcement agency as a matter of urgency.

A few days ago I was reading a History text as I usually like to entertain myself with our Caribbean history. This was what the writer William Green had to say about Education in his book “British Slave Emancipation – The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment 1830-1865.”

Speaking about 1858 he says, “Education was expensive and no Caribbean Government could justify spending the amount of money required for a compulsory system. He continues, “Qualified teachers were in short supply throughout all the colonies, and local normal schools could not produce the personnel to staff a compulsory public system.”

In 2006, we have come a long way, both absolutely and relatively, because comparatively we have left some of our neighbors behind as it pertains to a compulsory system of education. Not that we mock the tardiness of our friends, but that we boast of our successes as a proud Vincentian people.

As teachers now is not the time for you to fear the classroom but to arrest the situation with a greater sense of urgency.