Thu | Aug 22, 2019

Jaevion Nelson | Teaching a lopsided form of discipline and accountability

Published:Saturday | May 18, 2019 | 12:08 AM

It’s quite odd how the petty gods reigning over our schools are usually so adamant about disciplining children (sometimes for the simplest of ‘offences’), but have no problem ignoring regulations and the law, and their morals to protect and overlook the wrongdoings of educators who harm students.

A couple years ago, one of my friends, a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here in Jamaica, who was being bullied by their peers, was kicked out of a traditional high school in the Corporate Area as a result. The school administrators, the petty gods who are usually endowed with the need to discipline students for their tardiness and uniform or not achieving a certain average, among other things, refused to adequately address the issue at hand. The best solution, to them, was seemingly to disrupt the child’s education. Eventually, my friend ended up enrolling in a non-traditional high school, which had less than adequate resources and well-trained educators who would give them a fair chance to achieve their fullest potential.

My friend is not alone. I have heard stories about others who, though the victim, were basically punished by school administrators who kicked them out or were ‘polite’ enough to ask them to leave. One thing I have noticed is that this swiftness of action seems to be particularly applied to students who are deemed to be queer and students who are poorer and have not the ‘right’ name or connections.

You can’t help but wonder if adults in these settings understand their duty of care to children when you think about the current state of affairs in so many of our schools.

While I was in first form many years ago, it was rumoured that one of our teachers was in a ‘relationship’ with one of the footballers. It was a hot topic of discussion among students, but this wasn’t the only such case we heard or talked about for the seven years I spent there. I recall the disappearance of one science teacher in particular, who they say was asked not to return allegedly because of an intimate ‘relationship’ with a student. I doubt this was ever reported to the police or Ministry of Education. There was also that teacher who was famous for battering students (both males and females) but managed to stay there for quite some time, in spite of the frequent visits by parents who complained.

The other day, my friend made mention of about three or so teachers from their high school who allegedly had ‘relationships’ with students and who shortly after graduation became their girlfriend/misses.

It appears the law means nothing to many teachers, principals, school boards and parent-teacher associations, given how quick schools usually are to punish students but wilfully ignore the provisions of the Education Regulations, Child Care & Protection Act and Sexual Offences Act.

School-based professionals – teachers and administrators – who harm children, rape and beat them, for example, are seemingly protected because the harm they perpetrate often go unreported and there is nary a concern about the need for swift action and discipline. No one seems to be bothered by the impunity they enjoy, despite the known and irreparable harm they cause children and their families.

There seems to be a habit of sweeping these matters under the carpet and simply removing the perpetrators from the school when reports of such offences become unbearable. These actions are not necessarily, in my humble opinion, to protect children but simply to save face, to protect school and administrator’s reputation. These individuals are then allowed to move on to other schools to perpetrate similar or even worse offences against our children.

PASSING ON THE PROBLEM

It’s frightening how teachers with such records are seemingly allowed to move through the education system from school to school year after year by individuals who would have otherwise been so quick to discipline a student, even when they are the victim, with no one raising an alarm. I suppose this is some kind of unwritten code among those in charge and a consensus that this warped and less than effective sanction and rehabilitation will make things right by simply passing on the problem to someone else.

Do we realise or are we concerned that the institutions tasked with the responsibility of preparing our children for adulthood teach them a lopsided form of discipline and accountability? Ultimately, they grow up understanding that you are only accountable to people who are more powerful than you, and that there are some of us who are so powerful who are never held accountable.

There is something gravely wrong and we have to do something about it. The stories are all too common and chilling when you think about the dangers our children are being exposed to daily.

Do we not do background checks for educators, youth workers, and others who are employed in these positions to take care of our children? Are principals and school boards not concerned about why an educator would have left another school? Is the education ministry aware of these incidents and how do they plan on ensuring accountability?

We cannot continue to allow schools to compete with each other to see who can discipline and over-police students’ bodies with ridiculous, inflexible and low-key racist grooming requirements and yet they are not held accountable to human rights and child protection standards.

It’s time to fix a long-standing issue. We have not the luxury of time and our children can bear no more abuse from those who should be acting in their best interest.

Jaevion Nelson is a human rights, social and economic justice advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com or tweet @jaevionn