Senator: Not 'zero tolerance,' but restorative approach to unruly pupils

Hazel Thompson-Ahye -
Hazel Thompson-Ahye -

INDEPENDENT Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye on Tuesday called for a restorative approach to delinquent pupils, not zero tolerance, speaking on proposals for a 150 per cent corporate tax-break on donations to registered public or private schools. The Senate debated the Finance Bill 2023.

"As someone who has taught at every level – from five year old infants to post-graduate law students over 65 years of age – I can say this is a great initiative.

"Educational institutions at all levels are always in need of greater resources to enhance the quality of their delivery of educational and other related services."

She hoped for transparency in the spending of donations, under the respective school boards.

"During the pandemic when online teaching was the order of the day, it was clear that not all schools were equally resourced, all their children equally served."

Pupils and teachers both needed resources that were in short supply or non-existent, she recalled.

"This inequity remains real, up to today, in spite of the amount of money being ploughed into the education ministry."

She said some schools lack science labs, impacting pupils' futures. Thompson-Ahye was very concerned at transport woes for rural pupils.

"Despite the hard work of the Minister of Education, our schools are in crisis."

Noting recent reports of seven pupils expelled from a boys secondary school now being recommended for Milat, she said the programme was a one-size-fits-all remedy.

"There has been much talk from all quarters about a zero-tolerance approach for school misbehaviour.

"It makes for a good sound bite. It says we are tough on miscreants, but what about being tough on the causes of crime?"

She wondered how the seven expelled pupils had been handled upon getting into trouble previously.

"Do the advocates of zero tolerance understand what that means?

"It has been discredited with not allowing school administrators to use their judgement or consider the circumstances of the crime.

"Research shows that a zero-tolerance policy is not a silver bullet, but a zero-intelligence policy."

What assessment had been done to determine the root causes of the school misbehaviour, she asked of the seven pupils.

"I am making a strong plea for money from the corporate sponsorship allowance to be spent on not only physical resources or even for more social programmes for schools, but for mental-health programmes as well."

She highly recommended a book by author James Garbarino, Raising children in a socially toxic environment, spelling out the psychosocial needs of children.

Thompson-Ahye said children might suffer long-term adverse outcomes owing to multiple childhood adversities, as documented in a 2016 article in the Journal of Public Child Welfare on the relationship between maltreatment, exposure to intimate partner violence, and academic performance.

"All of these experts showed the need to investigate, understand and treat with the problems of children evidenced by their so-called bad behaviour.

"This is where we should spend our time and financial resources. Social workers and child psychologists continue to be few and far between, overworked and underpaid.

"But, more importantly, we need more child mental-health professionals."

She cited a book published in 1999 on the Chicago juvenile court system, Second Chances, documenting youngsters' success stories.

However, she said, "US research on zero-tolerance policies have shown a finding of bias against students from lower socio-economic status and minorities, especially African American and Hispanic youth who receive harsher and more punitive punishments than non-minority counterparts for the same behaviour.

She said it would be interesting to show what research in TT would show.

"Many studies have shown that restorative justice is a successful alternative for zero-tolerance policies.

"I urge the ministry move towards a greater integration of restorative practice since our nation's schools are starting and I hope it would be greatly enhanced."


"Senator: Not ‘zero tolerance,’ but restorative approach to unruly pupils"

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