A teacher who is alleged to have used abusive language towards pupils of the Tranquillity Government Primary School has been told to stay away from the classrooms for the rest of the week and will be served with suspension papers by the end of the week.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia visited the school yesterday and said he was “very concerned and very disturbed” by the types of reports and complaints that have surfaced.
This comes days after a series of voice recordings—alleged to be that of a Standard Five teacher— was posted online in which verbal threats, racist rants and disparaging comments were directed to the pupils and their parents.
During the impromptu visit to the school at the corner of Stanmore Avenue and Tragarete Road yesterday, Garcia told the media that the teacher had been removed from the classroom as students continue to be counselled by five officials from the Student Support Services Division.
Garcia said the teacher would be presented with a Cease To Report letter by the end of this week.
However, until such time, he said arrangements have been made for the teacher to operate from the staff room.
he instrument which would have to be issued by the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) would inform the teacher of the type of action being taken against her and the immediate consequences as further investigations take place.
He explained, “If that is the type of behaviour that is being carried out by a teacher which we consider to be a threat to the safety of our students and the safety of all those who operate in the school on a daily basis, we have to ensure everyone is safe.”
Although the teacher was said to be present at the school yesterday, Garcia denied speaking with her as it meant he could be accused of contaminating the investigation.
During the two-hour visit, Garcia met with the school’s principal and the district’s school supervisors from whom he received troubling reports about various issues affecting the school including the poor performance of some teachers; a general lethargy that pervades the school; and the administration of corporal punishment to students.
Accompanied by the Chief Education Officer Harrilal Seecharan; Permanent Secretary Lenore Baptiste-Simmons; Advisor Cheryl Ann Wilkinson and other officials, Garcia said he was perplexed by reports that there were some members of staff who, “don’t seem to be able to conform to the regular standards of good performance.”
He said issues of late coming, absenteeism, private lessons by teachers on the school’s compound, and the administering of corporal punishment to students were chief among the problems now being reported at the school.
Additionally, he said it was clear that school officials were not adhering to the school-based management system that had been put in place for such issues to be reported.
Following the meeting, Garcia said, “We got from them a report of all the activities at the school and that report has left us very concerned and very disturbed because it seems to us, apart from the rants of that teacher…that there is a general feeling of indiscipline among not only students but teaching staff.”
Indicating he was not one to unfairly chastise teachers, Garcia said yesterday’s meeting had left officials, “with a painful feeling in our stomachs at what transpired at this school and what has been transpiring”.
He said two teachers were found to have breached regulations regarding the corporal punishment of students and were now being asked to submit reasons why disciplinary action should not be taken against them.
Further to this, another teacher yesterday exhibited a certain level of hostility and disrespect to the minister after he requested all staff members to meet with him.
The female teacher raised her voice and demanded not to be photographed by the media as she walked out of the room, despite an attempt by Garcia to calm her down.
In February of 2001, the then Education Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pioneered legislation which led to a ban on corporal punishment in schools.
According to the United Global Initiative, “Corporal punishment of children breaches their fundamental human rights to respect for human dignity and physical integrity.”
Regarding the practice by some teachers to conduct private after-school lessons on the compound, Garcia said, “This is contrary to the regulations by the Ministry of Education and even the Education Act which prohibits teachers from charging for any service that he or she is giving to our students.”
In an immediate response to this, he said they would meet with the Director of School Supervision and the School Supervisors to, “Ensure some of these shortcomings are corrected as soon as possible.”
Claiming the school had previously been a shining example to other government-run institutions, Garcia said the problem now lay with the school’s leadership and this had to be corrected.
He said, “The School Supervisor has told us that she would be making certain recommendations with respect to dealing with this problem of poor leadership and she would have the support of us.”
“Some of the things we learnt today has been going on for some time without our knowledge,” he said.
Although he refused to say similar situations could be happening at other schools, the minister said they were hopeful the school-based management system had proven to be more effective in other schools.
Asked to reinforce the ministry’s policy regarding the use of cellphones in schools, Seecharan confirmed it was not being adhered to at this particular school.
He said, “There is some flexibility within schools for them to come up with a strategy so, in many of our secondary schools, cellphones were lodged with the administration during the day and collected in the evening.”
“I am not familiar with the specific policy in this school but it seems to me, it’s a breach of the normal policy and operating guidelines within the school to have students having cellphones in the classroom.”
Parents of some of the affected students indicated disbelief and said they had even dismissed their children’s concerns regarding the teacher’s behaviour before the recordings went viral.
Reporter: Anna-Lisa Paul