Mae’s in ‘profound apologies’ to student over indigenous costume snub

From right are the parents of Joshua Chacon, Jason Chacon and Karen Small, owner of Mae’s Schools, Stacey French and Administrator of the school, Lucinda Mc Curdy. (Ministry of Education photo)

Mae’s Schools yesterday offered “profound apologies” to  nine-year-old student, Joshua Chacon who was left traumatised after he was told that he was inappropriately dressed for a culture day activity.

The apology came 12 days after the May 25th incident and after the family of the boy, indigenous groups and other organisations had protested outside the school and the Ministry of Education had launched a probe.

The school’s owner, Stacey French apologized in person yesterday  to the parents of the boy, Karen Small and Jason Chacon at a meeting at the Ministry of Education. A release from the Ministry said that the parents accepted the apology.

In a statement yesterday, Mae’s said:  ”On the day of May 25, 2018 there was a most unfortunate and deeply regrettable incident at our school. 

“We recognize that this event created trauma for the student, his family and the community. 

“We deeply regret the incident, and offer our most sincere and profound apologies to the student and his family for the hurt and pain which he suffered as a result. 

“We recognize also that various aspects of the event have been mischaracterized and misrepresented in the media. 

“It was not our intention to hurt, disrespect or degrade such an important part of the beautiful cultural mosaic which constitutes Guyana”. 

The school said that its primary focus was and remains that the hurt and pain caused by the incident be handled in a manner that repairs the damage caused while at the same time reconfirming Mae’s commitment to cultural diversity.

The school added that it has engaged and will continue to engage those institutions dedicated to protecting and promoting indigenous culture as a vital part of Mae’s educational experience.

The ministry’s release said that those in attendance at  yesterday’s engagement were Minister of Education,  Nicolette Henry; Chief Education Officer, Marcel Hutson; Deputy Chief Education Officer (Admin),  Ingrid Trotman; Ministry of Education’s Legal Officer,  Kelly-ann Payne-Hercules; Private School Coordinator within the Ministry of Education, Doodmattie Singh; Programme Coordinator – Department of Social C0hesion, Culture, Youth and Sport;  Sharon Patterson and Administrator of Mae’s Schools, Lucinda Mc Curdy.

Hutson, the release said, stated that there was need for psycho-social support for the child.  Patterson supported this and pledged her Department’s willingness to also work with the teachers and staff of the school to ensure they have a better understanding of diversities and to enhance their capabilities to deal with such.

Henry, according to the release, said that if better judgement had prevailed the entire episode could have been avoided.

Yesterday’s meeting was the third convened by the ministry in a bid to settle the controversy.

On May 25th, Small made a Facebook post relating that her nine-year-old son had not been allowed to enter his school fully dressed in his Indigenous wear and that staff, including the security guard, teachers, and the headmistress had stated that his attire was inappropriate.

The child wore a skirt made out of tibisiri with underpants. He wore no shirt and sported a beaded chain and a decorated head band.

Small said that the day was going well and her son was very happy dressed in his Amerindian wear as he was on his way to school. However, the boy’s excitement and happiness faded after he was initially not allowed to enter the school’s compound.

After being told by the guard and a teacher that his attire was inappropriate, she said that she put a shirt on her son and left him at school for the day. It was to her surprise that when she went to pick him up from school, he was no longer wearing his Amerindian garb. She said that he related to her that he was teased throughout the day and chose to change.

“The hurtful part was when I picked him up from school and he (had taken off) every single piece of Amerindian wear he had on. This is just wrong. You might as well tell them to wear culture wear except for those from the Amerindians,” the woman added. Small noted that she then took the matter to the head teacher of the school, who also related to her that the way her son was dressed was inappropriate.

The school in its initial response had denied that any staff had been engaged on the matter, and said the student had “settled into his classes without incident.” Further, it implied that the child had not adhered to the required mode of dress, as his class reportedly had to portray the Portuguese culture, and students were reportedly told to wear underclothes to prevent exposure.

The school claimed that this was done in an oral brief leading up to the activity, despite the fact that it had sent out letters to the parents specifying that “pupils will be allowed to dress in their cultural wear, depicting an ethnic group of their choice….” and nothing else.

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