With reporting by SASHA HARRINANAN and SHANE SUPERVILLE
Students who have been identified as the boys caught on camera 'taxing' and beating their classmates at the Siparia West Secondary School (SWSS) were yesterday suspended for an initial period of seven days.
In addition to an expected extension of their suspension, the teenagers may also be transferred to programmes such as the Military-Led Academic Training Academy (MILAT).
Meanwhile their victims were interviewed by police yesterday and will be receiving counselling from the Education Ministry's Student Support Services Division.
The announcement was made by Chief Education Officer, Harrilal Seecharan, following a lengthy meeting at the school yesterday morning. Those in attendance included SWSS Principal, Sookoo Sonnylal, School Supervisor III, Zabeedah Hosein-Abid, Acting Director of School Supervision, John Thompson as well as officers from the Child Protection Unit, Criminal Investigation Division and Community Policing Department of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
Seecharan said "the necessary action will be taken" by police; based on the footage of and statements provided by, those students who were recorded being 'taxed', slapped, harassed and beaten. No adults are seen or heard in any of the videos which were recently uploaded to social media.
Meanwhile, based on statements being collected from students, the ministry yesterday "identified a number of students who were seen as perpetrators".
Seecharan said, "Those students will be suspended immediately but that will not exclude any further action, whether it's from police investigations or whether it's from the school."
Reiterating the ministry's zero-tolerance policy towards indiscipline and violence in schools, Seecharan said "where it warrants, some students may be asked to move to alternative placement" such as Military-Led Academic Training Academy (MILAT), Military-led Youth Programme of Apprenticeship (MIPAT) and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The ministry has also come up with a "comprehensive plan to deal with indiscipline" in primary and secondary schools. The SWSS does have its own School Discipline Plan; the overall progamme was introduced in 2016, but Seecharan yesterday lamented that the 'taxing' and fight videos were able to take place due to "a gap" in its implementation.
"We had a very lengthy meeting with the middle management and there is (now) a team at the school looking at promoting discipline. Based on that meeting, we identified some gaps in terms of the supervision of students, which would have resulted in the incidents that you saw on social media."
Seecharan said during that same meeting, a number of measures were identified to address this issue. Namely, revising SWSS' discipline plan and "instituting some more stringent measures in terms of walk through and patrols to ensure that during lunch time, break time and maybe before and after school, students are not left unsupervised."
Seecharan added that School Supervisor III, Zabeedah Hosein-Abid, will provide the ministry with "a very detailed report of what transpired during the meeting (which) will form the basis of whatever action the ministry may decide to pursue in this matter."
Although SWSS had "a gap" in the proper implementation of its School Discipline Plan, the Chief Education Officer remained confident in the effectiveness of the initiative.
"We're beginning to see some results from that in terms of a reduction. We haven't had; until this incident, any serious incident for this term so far but we are currently rolling out those plans. In fact, the Division of School Supervision is currently reviewing the school discipline plan; in terms of enacting those and ensuring that they're implemented properly," Seecharan stated.
Asked to comment on the videos, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teacher's Association (TTUTA) Lyndsley Doodhai, was yesterday critical of what he described as a lapse in parenting.
Speaking with Newsday, Doodhai echoed the sentiments of Education Minister Anthony Garcia, saying such behaviour should not be tolerated.
"I saw the video and I must say that, the behaviour of the students in the video was totally unacceptable and I agree with the Education Minister in condemning such activities. I also agree with his decision to involve the police in this matter."
Doodhai also said that parents ought to take on greater responsibility for their children and criticised what he described as a lapse in parenting and a breakdown in communication between parents and teachers. He added that he has received numerous complaints from teachers at the school leading up to the surfacing of the videos online and said that concerns of security and discipline were just few of the issues raised by the teachers.
"There must be some kind of dialogue between the teachers and the parents when it comes to the behaviours of their children in school, after all these children are only in school for roughly eight hours a day. It almost seems like parents have fallen down on their parenting. Also I can confirm that TTUTA has received complaints from teachers at the school on a number of concerns regarding a lack of discipline at the school," Doodhai told Newsday.