Education Minister Anthony Garcia scoffed at the idea that teachers at Diego Martin North Secondary are afraid of their students.
On Wednesday, the minister called on teachers at Edinburgh Government Primary School and Diego Martin North to report for duty after they walked off the job on Monday which was the first day of the new school term.
Teachers at Diego Martin claimed their health and safety were compromised and they could not work under such conditions. But it seems that these were not their only concerns. One parent said her child had not returned to school when the new term started. She said the teachers fear for their safety because students have attacked them in the recent past.
Rusted beams and railings, pigeon droppings in the hall and insufficient running water aside, teachers have to deal with students, both in and out of the classroom, disrupting classes by banging doors and shouting.
“Most members of staff have been threatened and cursed at by students, almost on a daily basis. Some students on the ground floor, behind the drama room, are fully engaged in smoking, gambling and fighting, which disrupt other classes. Teachers and students are splashed with urine, juice and dirty water, and pelted with stones, pieces of concrete blocks, furniture, garbage bins and bags of garbage.”
The parent said the walls gave easy access to vandals and students to enter and leave at any time. She added that there are gang symbols on the walls and graffiti and burning books in classrooms. Garcia, speaking to Newsday during a telephone interview last week Thursday, said the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) went to the school and its report said the teachers had no justification for staying away, so he was calling on them to return to work.
“We have also assigned a school supervisor to be resident there for some time, because we feel we need to give the principal a little more support. We will also be assigning curriculum officers to visit the school and meet with the teachers on a regular basis. The teachers themselves will also get support in implementing the curriculum. We have asked the school management committee to ensure that a school disciplinary plan is put in place so that any potential infraction can be dealt with.”
Asked about the indiscipline and violence among students, Garcia said the was absolutely no need for fear.
“They can’t say they are afraid of the students. Students are human beings and are subject to the rules and regulations. This thing that teachers are afraid of students, I don’t buy that at all.
“Students will be students, and as long as students are properly supervised and actively engaged, students will behave themselves.
“Of course there are instances where students do not follow the law and we have things in place to deal with that, but you cannot say that teachers are afraid of students.”
Head of the TT Unified Teachers’ Association Antonia De Freitas was sceptical about the minister’s response.
“Right,” she said. “When you look at the walls and you see the gang symbols in the bathroom, there should be fear.
“There appears to be some sort of reluctance to admit that there is a problem there. We can’t just leave the problem there, we have to take the problem forward.
“When the teachers arrived at school and saw that certain things were not done, they decided to take a rest, because they have no idea when these things will be rectified.”
The parent said there had been stakeholder meetings with all parties concerned, including the ministry, community police and parents.
“Nothing has been done. It is like if we are being ignored.”
Now into the second week of school, the parent said her child only returned to school on Monday, only to receive a phone call to come and pick him up.
She said there were teachers in the school, but they were not teaching.
“They called the parents to come for their children. They claimed that there was no water and they dismissed classes early. Since last year November teachers have not been teaching, there was no end of term exams, nothing.
“They are not teaching because they want their issues and health and safety to be addressed. The parents are frustrated. Every day last week parents have had to leave work to pick up their children because there are no classes and their bosses are getting fed up. They can’t be leaving their work all the time, that is loss of productivity.”
When contacted again, Garcia said the permanent secretary at the ministry had visited the school on Monday and was in a meeting and to call back in the next hour and a half. However, several calls made went to voice mail.