THE Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago (PCTT) has said no child has ever been denied admission to any one of its 72 primary or five secondary schools on the basis of their religion or ethnicity.
Neither is there any evidence to suggest any pattern of bias over the decades of the existence of Presbyterian schools, the church said.
The fact that Presbyterian schools are often listed as the top choice for thousands of students “is a testament to our legacy of excellence in education at the secondary level and the focus on spirituality, morality, values education and the holistic development of our students.”
Those claims came in a joint statement from church Moderator the Rev Joy Abdul-Mohan and general secretary of Synod Terrence Warde in response to a critical commentary by professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota Theodore Lewis. Several other commentators took issue with Lewis's claims.
In the commentary published in Monday’s Newsday, Lewis spoke of “black children” being excluded from the best schools, identifying the Presbyterian-run secondary schools as being “overwhelmingly Indian schools” which admit black children only if they can play sports.
Lewis suggested that a good proxy for race is a person’s last name, pointing to the 2020 SEA placement of students with Indian surnames being the majority of those admitted to some top schools including the Presbyterian schools, Presentation College, Chaguanas and San Fernando, and Lakshmi Girls'.
In the statement, which Abdul-Mohan told Newsday is not meant to be reactionary or a rebuttal, but merely a statement of fact, the church said it was deeply disturbed and disappointed by what it said were baseless and misleading insinuations which it vehemently denied.
The PCTT said all admissions to Presbyterian primary schools are based on the criteria established by the Ministry of Education and that the church has never told principals to use race or ethnicity in its selection process.
It said the number of applications for first-year students surpasses the number of available places and selection is based on age, immunisation status, and residence in the catchment area, among other things.
The PCTT, through the Primary and Secondary Schools Board of Education, is responsible for managing and administering the schools and is guided by the law which governs the education system.
These include provisions of the Constitution, the Education Act, the Teaching Service Regulations, and the Public Service Regulations as adopted by the teaching service.
The church and boards of education, it said, "also adhere to the provisions of the Concordat and the policies developed and designed by the MoE for the effective functioning of schools.
“The positive tone, ethos, discipline, culture and climate of our schools have evolved over decades due to the hard work, commitment, diligence, professionalism and aim for excellence from our educators, students, parents and other stakeholders in partnership.”
Given the origin of the PCTT and its history with the Canadian Mission to the Indian diaspora post-indentureship, the church said many of its schools are in farming communities in rural south and central Trinidad, where the demographics are predominantly indo-Trinidadian.
“Despite this, our secondary schools have the proud history of being non-discriminatory to any race, ethnicity, or religion and are privileged and blessed to be the number one choice school for many high achievers at the SEA examinations.
“We have never interfered with the MoE’s selection process. All students in our secondary schools are offered the same educational opportunities and many have reached their full potential as a result of the stewardship of generations of members and other stakeholders."