Any student accused of a crime still has a right to an education under the Education Act 2006 of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
And, a person of school age who is found guilty of an offence, and expelled from school, is still entitled to a government provided education, once they are of school age.
Recently, there has been uproar over the return to school of three boys, ages 15, 16 and 17, charged with the rape of a 12-year-old girl, their schoolmate. The alleged incident is said to have taken place on Wednesday, January 31, when the female student was exiting the schoolâs bathroom.
This week, on hearing that the boys were back at school, talk radio and social media engaged in debate, with some expressing concern that the boys had been allowed to return to the school where the act was allegedly committed.
But, Minister of Education St Clair âJimmyâ Prince said on Monday that while he understands the outrage, the Ministry is obligated by the Education Act to continue to provide schooling for the boys. â
âIt is an allegation; so the Ministry just canât put them out of school. But at the same time, we have to be sensitive; so, what we are doing is put them in student support and let the teachers send work for them, because it is difficult to get them, into other schools,â Prince told SEARCHLIGHT.
He added, âit is our responsibility to continue their education; we are responsible for them; we have to do that according to the law, the Education Act.â
Part of the Education Act states that the principal may suspend a student for a period not exceeding 10 school days for âgross misconduct which may constitute a risk or danger to members of staff or other students.â
About three weeks ago, the boys returned to school after a 10-day suspension, but last Monday, they were taken off the school compound in a vehicle after the public outcry.
The Ministry of Education said on Monday that the boys are expected to take up their education at one of the Ministry of Educationâs Student Support Programmes, most likely in Frenches, Kingstown.
Part III, Division 1 of the Education Act, Studentsâ Rights and Responsibilities, Section 14: Right to education, says, âSubject to available resources and to this Act, all persons in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are entitled to receive an education appropriate to their needs.â
Division Five, Section 55 of the Act, which speaks to Discipline, Suspension and Expulsion of Students, says, ââ¦except that if the Chief Education Officer, after consulting the principal, determines that the remedies mentioned in paragraphs (a) or (b) are not appropriate in the particular case, the Chief Education Officer, may, on the recommendation of the principal, expel the student.
â(3) Where the Chief Education Officer expels a student, the Chief Education Officer must make alternative arrangements for the education of that student as the circumstances warrant.â
Commenting further, Prince stated, âsuppose tomorrow we hear they are innocent and we had already curtailed their education? We have to balance it between being sensitive and at the same time maintaining their own right to an education.â
Prince said the boys were allowed to return to the school where the alleged act took place, as it is difficult to place them at another school.
âWe were working on the logistics, talking to the parents, talking to the student support centre and talking to the schools. It would be unfair to curtail their education on the basis of an allegationâ¦we have to follow the Education Act because that is what informs us,â said the Education Minister.
He said that there are other students in the system in similar situations and they too, have to be schooled.
In relation to the 12-year-old girl being removed from the school, Prince said she was moved, as the Ministry thought that it would be traumatic for her to remain at the same school where the alleged act took place. The girl and her guardians agreed, Prince said.
The boys are expected to re-appear at Family Court on Lower Bay Street on May 10 where they will be tried in a closed court session, which is usually the case with charges of this nature.(LC)