KINGSTON, Jamaica – The Jamaican Government is about to launch a programme, apparently similar to one first announced nearly five years ago, under which troubled and disruptive students will be “timed-out” from school and placed in special facilities for rehabilitation.
“We are implementing a five-year programme,” the Education Minister, Maxine Henry-Wilson, told members of the Jamaica Teachers Association on the final day of their annual conference here yesterday.
“(We will) withdraw them (disruptive students) for a period of time and have them in a dedicated environment which we hope, over time, will provide for a boarding environment,” the minister said.
Although she did not mention the earlier idea, the programme unveiled by Henry-Wilson, to be formally launched in September, seems to mirror one announced at the start of the decade by her predecessor, Burchell Whiteman.
Whiteman’s proposal which came at a time of deepening concern over violence in schools, included the establishment of regional facilities which would have the services of psychologists and other behavioural specialists to counsel troubled children.
Among the hurdles then faced by the administration was how to deal with potential legal challenges from parents in the absence of legislation allowing the removal of children and placement into what some critics feared would develop into ‘boot camps’.
The Government, however, did go through with volunteer, short-term camps, coordinated by the Social Development Commission. At the first of these camps students rioted and their parents had to be called in.
But Henry-Wilson said yesterday that these camps had provided a model for what is now to be introduced, and that many lessons had been learnt from them.
Teachers, Henry-Wilson said, should begin identifying students who would benefit from the system.
Meantime, Henry-Wilson warned teachers to abide by the Education Code when expelling students, for fear of lawsuits.
“We have some legal actions in front of us now, which we are trying to stave off,” she said. “This is based on the fact that parents are much more litigious than they were before, and that they are willing to take these things to court.”
Before students are expelled, the minister said, administrators should ensure all other measures are explored, not only for legal reasons but for the protection of children.
The Education Ministry, Henry-Wilson also said, remained committed to creating safe zones around schools where the carrying of weapons would be forbidden.