Authorities at troubled John Gray High School have doled out more than three times as many suspensions to badly behaved pupils as have their counterparts at Clifton Hunter in the past four academic years.
A total of 91 suspensions of five days or longer were handed out for a variety of offenses ranging from verbal abuse and threats to physical assaults on teaching staff in Grand Cayman’s high schools between 2010 and 2014.
The vast majority of the suspensions – 64 – were at John Gray, with 21 at Clifton Hunter and six at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre.
A consultant’s report released last month highlighted serious concerns about the management of bad behavior in Cayman’s schools – particularly John Gray.
The report suggested some staff were fearful of physical and verbal violence amid a “sense of crisis” at the school, fueled by a minority of students influenced by “criminal intent and drug abuse.” It suggested some teachers locked themselves and their students in their classrooms to avoid the chaos. The report also suggested that teachers could be contributing to the problem by calling for help and taking disciplinary action too quickly for lower level offenses.
The suspensions data, supplied to the Cayman Compass following a Freedom of Information request, shows that students at John Gray were three times as likely to get lengthy suspensions as pupils at Clifton Hunter over the four-year period covered by the FOI.
Of the 30 suspensions of seven days or longer – the threshold for more serious incidents – 21 of them were at John Gray. The most severe punishment was a 36-day exclusion for a student at the school for threatening a teacher in March last year.
“This related to a repeat offender who was a significant health and safety risk to the school,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Education said.
A student who allegedly assaulted his teacher – punching him to the ground in a classroom attack in February this year – was suspended for 22 days, according to the data.
The FOI response offers limited details on the other lengthy suspensions, four at John Gray and one at Clifton Hunter.
One student was suspended for 30 days in 2011 for a “physical assault against an adult,” according to the data. Two other students were suspended for 30 days in 2010 and 2011 for verbal abuse and threatening behavior towards adults. Another student was suspended for 10 days for a similar offense, also in 2010.
A student at Clifton Hunter High School was suspended for 10 days in March for verbal abuse and threatening behavior towards an adult.
The picture has improved somewhat over time. In the last two years, there were 13 suspensions of five days or more at John Gray, compared with 51 in the two years prior.
The ministry classifies suspensions of seven days or longer in the more serious category, as these cannot be handed out independently by the school but require approval from the chief education officer.
During the four years covered by the FOI request, 21 suspensions of seven days or more were enforced at John Gray, six at Clifton Hunter and three at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre.
The data sought by the Compass’s open records request was for information on assaults against staff in Cayman’s schools. However, the ministry acknowledged issues with its record-keeping procedures that it said prevented it from giving detailed information on the assaults and agreed instead to provide data on suspensions as a compromise,
A spokesman said, “The FOI report highlighted an ongoing area of concern that we have we been working to address … Information relating to serious incidents is often not recorded in SIMS and is not always cross referenced to exclusion data, while reports that have been written are often vague and do not accurately describe what occurred and/or the outcomes.
“Ongoing work continues to improve the implementation of the necessary policy, guidance and operational procedures relating to the recording and reporting of serious incidents, and this is a key feature of the ‘Improving School Climates’ strategy of this government.”