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Ministry curtails certain school activities

Ministry curtails certain school activities

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The Ministry of Education has suspended, until further notice, school fairs involving disc jockeys and loud music, field trips to picnic sites close to the sea or rivers and boat rides for fund-raising or simple leisure.

The suspension of these activities is the Ministry’s response to a recent killing at a school fair and the drowning of two students in separate incidents earlier this year.

But three principals interviewed by SEARCHLIGHT yesterday, on the condition of anonymity, all agreed that the decision to suspend these activities should be reviewed.{{more}}

“I understand that desire to do something because of what has happened; I understand that desire, but field trips to picnic sites close to the sea or rivers can be managed; things like that can be managed,” said the head of one local secondary school in Kingstown.

The principal said that it is mandatory that students take field trips, as a number of school projects require outings.

“For our ecology projects, that’s where they have to go, so what they going to do, ban those?” asked the principal, who added that schools also take leisure trips that allow for relaxation after exams and other strenuous school activities.

“I find I would be more comfortable if field trips and fund-raising ventures were treated individually. To have a blanket thing on all of them, I find you can throw out the baby with the bath water,” said the experienced educator.

The principal added that schools raise funds in many different ways, including boats rides. She stressed that boat rides are huge fund-raisers that can raise between EC$6,000 and EC$8,000 and the funds are used to buy school supplies, as the Ministry of Education cannot supply all of the school’s needs and wants.

“The fund-raisers keep the school going…no, I think this is a bit too broad; they are sweeping up everything with it,” said the principal.

According to correspondence emailed yesterday to heads of schools by chief education officer Lou-Anne Gilchrist, the violent actions and tragic incidents which have occurred recently at school related events and outings are cause for great concern.

“One of the most recent incidents occurred on the compound of a school during a school fair. A young police officer lost his life at this event, which was designed to provide an avenue for students and parents to enjoy themselves in a festive environment.

“Prior to this, sadly, two of our students drowned,” said Gilchrist in the statement, which was dated May 20.

The incidents alluded to in the statement are the Monday, May 2 stabbing death at a fair held by the Belmont Primary School of police officer 602 Giovanni Charles; the Monday, March 21 drowning at Villa beach of Kimron ‘Champion Boy’ Lowman, a 13-year-old student of the Dr JP Eustace Secondary School and the Saturday, April 9 drowning in Bequia of 15-year-old Akeili Latham of the St Vincent Grammar School (SVGS). Latham was on a trip as part of the school’s RBTT Young Leaders group.

Another principal noted that the decision to suspend activities of this nature will put a dent not only in some of the school’s teaching activities, but fund-raisers as well.

“Some of these students don’t even know what Kingstown looks like, much less to beaches and rivers; so, when we cannot take them on field trips, that is limiting them even further. Some of them, all they know about is fighting; so, we use field trips to help broaden their horizons,” said the principal.

He noted that while his school does not use fairs to raise funds, a number of other schools do in an effort to supplement school income.

“If the Ministry is saying that fairs cannot be held with loud music, loud music is used to attract persons, then the Ministry should come up with ways that we can raise funds, as they cannot supply us with everything we need,” said the school head.

Gilchrist noted in the statement, “as one of our primordial responsibilities as a Ministry is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for our students and personnel at school and during all school related events, we wish to advise that, with immediate effect, and until further notice, we will not be granting permission for the following events:

“School fairs involving DJs and loud music. (We do not expect that alcoholic beverages will be sold at any school related event, but have learnt that this sometimes happens. This practice must stop.)

“Field trips to picnic sites close to the sea or rivers. (The Ministry has never endorsed or granted permission for bathing in rivers or in the sea.)

“Boat rides for fund-raising or simple leisure.”

She stressed that the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation and Ecclesiastical Affairs will continue to work with the office of the Commissioner of Police to ensure that full compliance is gained.

“We thank those head teachers who adhered to the instruction to cancel their school fairs and beach outings, while we sincerely trust that no other head teacher will blatantly disregard the instructions of the Ministry of Education and the constabulary, act ultra vires and proceed to host a school fair, as was done on Monday, May 16th, 2016”, said Gilchrist, adding, “in the interest of the safety and well-being of our students and related personnel, we appreciate your co-operation.”

The school fair that Gilchrist may have been referring to is one held on May 16 at the hard court located near to the Gomea Methodist School. The event was hosted by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of that school.

Another secondary school principal agreed that the decision adopted by the Ministry seems ill advised and not thoroughly thought out.

The opinion of this school head was that maybe the person who came up with the idea to suspend these activities was never involved in school administration and does not know the ins and out of running a school.

A teacher at one of the institutions visited noted that the person who is alleged to have killed the policeman at the school fair had stopped going to school of his own accord, so technically was still a student.

“He was basically still a student and he had all right to be at a school fair as a student. The fact that he went with a knife is a different matter altogether, but a lot of students are armed these days. Maybe the Ministry should help with security, instead of stopping major fund-raisers,” said the teacher.

Reports also are that a student at a Kingstown based school stabbed another student last week during an altercation that took place in a classroom.

Also, Lowman’s drowning did not happen during a school function, but took place when a group of friends decided to take a swim in the vicinity of the Young Island dock.

“This needs to be looked over. It is not the way to deal with the issues,” said the irate teacher.

Minister of Education Jimmy Prince could not be reached for a comment. (LC)

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