Ministry launches probe into Charlestown school assault incident

Minister of Education Shaik Baksh has said that officials from his ministry will be investigating the incident which occurred at the Charlestown Secondary School last Friday.

“I am very concerned about the incident and I expect the police will take prompt action and send a clear message to the perpetrators so that an incident of this nature does not happen again,” Baksh was reported as saying. “My ministry has a zero tolerance approach to the assaulting of teachers in schools. At our end, we will be investigating the incident and I expect a full report from my relevant officers by Monday afternoon. Based on the report, we will determine what course of action will be taken.”

Baksh, in a statement made through the ministry’s public relations person Tajeram Mohabir, also said that in instances where a student is assaulted by a teacher the matter must be reported to the head teacher and s/he is responsible for launching an initial investigation.

In this photo the foundation of the fence which is to be erected between the Charlestown and Carmel secondary schools can be seen. The incident between Prescott and Stephon occurred in this general area.

The minister’s statement comes after a call by parents, who have children attending either the Charlestown or Carmel secondary schools, for the Ministry of Education (MoE) to launch an investigation into the incident which left a Carmel student and three Charlestown teachers injured.

When contacted yesterday, the head teacher of Charlestown Secondary declined to comment.

“Speak with the ministry. I have nothing to say about this,” the woman told Stabroek News yesterday morning.

Triston Prescott, one of the injured teachers, reportedly assaulted a 12-year-old student from the neighbouring Carmel Secondary. The father of the child then allegedly barged into the school and chopped Prescott and his colleague Patrick Bourne. A third teacher, Cliffon Johnson was hit in the face.

The student, Stephon Bourne (not related to Patrick Bourne), had told this newspaper that following an exchange of words between him and Prescott the teacher slapped him several times and slammed his head against a concrete wall. The child sustained a wound to the forehead which was later mended with four stitches by doctors.

Stephon, his mother Vanessa McGarrell and the injured teachers have all given written statements to investigators at the Ruimveldt Police Station. Prescott is expected to be charged with assault and police are still hunting for the child’s father.

When Stabroek News revisited the two schools yesterday an employee at one of the schools recalled seeing Stephon’s father and several other relatives walking towards Charlestown Secondary some time around 3 pm on Friday. The employee, who requested anonymity, said news of what had happened between Prescott and Stephon had spread and when the guard at Carmel Secondary saw the group she immediately secured the gate to the compound.

However, the employee said, they later learnt that the guard on duty at the entrance to Charlestown Secondary did not react as quickly.

“It was simply ridiculous that this guard would let an armed man into a compound with students and teachers,” the employee said.

The employee further noted that at any given time there is only one guard on duty at both schools. The guards, according to them, work 12-hour shifts and cannot patrol the entire compound alone. Following the incident on Friday, parents had demanded that better security be provided at the schools.

Discipline needed

The same employee also alleged that Prescott has been involved in similar incidents in the past and is known for his “rough treatment” of students.

However, the employee reported that the previous alleged matters were never taken seriously by the school nor was the MoE informed about them.

“They have allowed …indiscipline in the past. This is wrong…when a teacher or student steps out of line then action must be taken to punish them so that they will know they are wrong,” the employee stated.

Other persons closely associated with institutions told Stabroek News yesterday that gambling, violence and poor discipline plague the Charlestown and Carmel secondary schools. Parents, long-standing employees and residents are now speaking out against these issues following the incident last Friday.

These are problems which exist in many schools countrywide, a senior educator said yesterday, and solutions can only be found when all elements of the education sector, beginning with the Ministry of Education (MoE), make a greater effort to deal with them.

“This is why we can never decide if banning corporal punishment was the best thing. On one hand some of these children need a few lashes to straighten them out and then on the other hand we have a teacher using excess physical force and justifying the ban of corporal punishment,” the educator said.

During school hours, a teacher told this newspaper, students of both schools are at the back of the building gambling. Some students, according to the teacher, even fetch “long blades” to school.

“Personally I will tell you, I wouldn’t want to tell some of these students anything because I honestly fear for my safety. There is only so much teachers can do to see that they do the right thing,” the teacher said. “I am not justifying what he did to that student. That was taking it to an extreme but people need to realize that teachers are limited in how they can discipline students.”

The fence which separates Charlestown Secondary from Carmel Secondary was torn down several days ago so that work could be started on a stronger structure. However, this newspaper understands that work on the fence is currently at a standstill due to a glitch in the laying of the foundation. This gives students from both institutions open access to each other’s compound.

“This is dangerous for all of us,” the same teacher further said. “We have friction between the students from both schools and now we have friction between the teacher of one school and the students of the other. I don’t feel safe here.”

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