Policy review under way, says education minister following teacher assault
Education minister Tara Rivers acknowledged Thursday that action was needed to address concerns about behavior in Cayman’s schools.
Speaking in the aftermath of an assault on a teacher at John Gray High School by a 15-year-old pupil and a slew of complaints from departing teachers about student discipline, Ms. Rivers said her ministry’s approach to behavior issues was under review.
She suggested “significant work” was already being done to strengthen discipline in the schools.
“The government recognizes that prompt actions need to be taken to address the concerns that have been raised about school behavior and student discipline,” she added.
“Extensive discussions” on the issue were taking place, she said, with parent teacher associations, school leadership, and the newly formed National Teacher Forum and National Parent Forum.
“We have also had visits to schools to listen to the concerns raised about school discipline and student behavior, in particular the negative impact that a small number of students have on their schools,” Ms. Rivers told members of the Legislative Assembly in Cayman Brac on Thursday.
“We all want schools that are safe, welcoming, supportive and inclusive learning environments … we must recognize our responsibilities to all our students, including those who have difficulties and ensure that they have access to the right support,” she said.
She added that various safe school measures were already in place, including behavior and education support teams which meet on a monthly basis to assess at-risk students.
A safe management and risk reduction training program has been developed and is being offered to teachers to help them “manage student behavior more effectively,” she said.
But she acknowledged that there were potential gaps in the system and said a review was under way.
She said she had asked for a draft action plan to address special needs education and a review of provisions for students with “behavioral needs.”
“I recognized the need to strengthen the governance of behavior management systems, both in schools and in the services that support schools,” she said. “The ministry, Department of Education Services, and the schools … have been charged with the responsibility to develop and implement a workable plan of action to address this fundamental issue and to increase accountability in the system.”
She said she was aware of concerns from teachers and in the community and recognized that prompt action was needed on “school behavior and student discipline.”
Working groups had been established in the high school and parents and students would be consulted as new policies were devised, the minister said.
She added that student behavior was not something that could be tackled by schools alone.
“It must be stated that some of the challenges faced by our school communities from those students who are struggling with severe, complex and significant behavioral or mental health issues go beyond the scope of my ministry alone. These young people pose a risk to both their school environments and their community, and they require intensive and specific interventions to address their needs.”
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush suggested greater coordination was required between the ministry and the Department of Child and Family Services to deal with behavior problems where they begin – in the home.
He also suggested a policy should be in place to ensure teachers that were recruited were more “in tune” culturally with Caymanian children, saying some youngsters got “aggravated” by in appropriate comments made by their teachers.