Con­cerned par­ent pleads for safety of stu­dents

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Fay­ola Ma­son

Ihave been mean­ing to write about this in­ci­dent from day one. How­ever, for sev­eral rea­sons I have not been able to do so till now. Since the images of that day have con­tin­ued to cloud my mind I feel obliged to give voice to my con­cerns if it is at least to re­duce the in­ten­sity of my dis­ap­point­ment.

On Fri­day 11th March, 2016 the scene along the Rod­ney Bay side­walk left com­muters won­der­ing whether the buses were on strike again. From the Gros Islet bus stand right down to Su­per J Rod­ney Bay stu­dents from the Is­lands’ sec­ondary schools were walk­ing the stretch and lin­ing the side­ways of the dan­ger­ous street. As a par­ent of a sec­ondary school stu­dent my­self I was ea­ger to find out the rea­son for such a stu­dent-packed high­way on this par­tic­u­lar Fri­day af­ter­noon.

Af­ter pick­ing up my own daugh­ter from the crowd (who had ear­lier called me to pick her up) I was quite an­noyed to find out the rea­son so many stu­dents had taken to the streets. Much to my dis­may, I found out that my daugh­ter, along with hun­dreds of oth­ers, had been en­cour­aged to go home af­ter it started to rain heav­ily. A down­pour which seemed to have in­ter­rupted what was sup­posed to be their an­nual in­ter-sec­ondary school sports meet at the Beause­jour grounds. Ap­par­ently, the buses con­tracted to trans­port the stu­dents, for some rea­son or other, never re­turned to pick them up. Ac­cord­ing to the stu­dents, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing teach­ers, un­sure of what mea­sures to take, had no choice but to let the crowd of stu­dents, al­beit unat­tended, fend for them­selves.

With no buses in sight, stu­dents tried des­per­ately to get home. At the bus stop even some bus driv­ers who were pick­ing up non-stu­dent pas­sen­gers ob­jected to tak­ing a full bus­load of stu­dents specif­i­cally be­cause there were not enough dol­lar gains to be de­rived from such a trip.

Some stu­dents were hik­ing ev­ery ve­hi­cle in sight, anx­i­ety writ­ten on their an­gry, tired faces, while they hurled in­sults at driv­ers who opted not to oblige.

Af­ter pick­ing up my daugh­ter by the road­side I watched a young adult male with his two side­kicks slap a teenage boy in uni­form for what seemed like no ap­par­ent rea­son just as we were driv­ing past an­other group of stu­dents. The teenager never fought back but sheep­ishly con­tin­ued walk­ing with his pals who them­selves had help­lessly wit­nessed him be­ing slapped.

One can only imag­ine what this could have es­ca­lated into if that teenage boy had re­acted de­fen­sively.

Let me re­it­er­ate to school au­thor­i­ties, min­is­te­rial and oth­er­wise: when par­ents au­tho­rize the re­moval of their child from school premises they do so in the hope the child will be trans­ported back and forth safely. In a case like this, where re­port­edly the buses con­tracted never re­turned, I would like to im­plore the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to make ap­pro­pri­ate ar­range­ments re­gard­ing stu­dent trans­porta­tion for such events in the fu­ture. In that way par­ents are not forced into worry mode if pub­lic bus sys­tems opt to be­come un­re­li­able due to self­ish rea­sons. They would most cer­tainly pre­fer the as­sur­ance that their child is safe and sound af­ter at­tend­ing a school event.

I clearly re­mem­ber dur­ing my days at high school and col­lege there were school buses pro­vided by the min­istry for school ex­cur­sions and such like. While I un­der­stand that a bus sys­tem for stu­dents is now a thing of the past (for ob­vi­ous rea­sons) I strongly be­lieve there needs to be some con­ver­sa­tion here. Per­haps if we re­visit the past we can take some notes of the things that worked. Things that made sense. Things that should be re-in­stated and things that can be im­proved. We need not nec­es­sar­ily rein­vent the wheel.

Get­ting back to the sub­ject at hand, later that evening a few stu­dents re­counted their mis­ad­ven­tures to me. Some in­di­cated that they had walked from Beause­jour to Castries. I met a young girl who told me she walked from Beause­jour to Grande Riv­iere and I am cer­tain that a num­ber of par­ents can con­firm that their child had dif­fi­culty get­ting home that day.

To be quite hon­est this has had me think­ing twice about al­low­ing my child to go to school-or­ga­nized events if it is out­side of the school premises. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion should get in­volved to or­ga­nize re­li­able trans­porta­tion for the schools when they have such high-rated in­ter-school events. I saw the event on TV the fol­low­ing night show­cas­ing the ath­letes. There was never any men­tion of the stranded stu­dents. No sur­prise to me at all. re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for our chil­dren. We can­not leave our kids to fend for them­selves par­tic­u­larly in a so­ci­ety where many per­sons have clearly lost their sense of re­spect to­wards each other, in­trud­ing on each oth­ers’ rights both sub­tly and vi­o­lently. Of late, count­less news re­ports have been con­firm­ing this – there is clearly no re­gard for the vul­ner­a­ble and some per­sons pay no par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the needs of the help­less and marginal­ized.

As a so­ci­ety, the safety and care of stu­dents and vul­ner­a­ble youth should be our pri­mary con­cern at all times. Our bat­tle as par­ents is al­ready tough enough with­out hav­ing to deal with worry about the safety of our chil­dren when they at­tend school or­ga­nized events.

This had bet­ter be an iso­lated event be­cause if it hap­pens again I would ad­vo­cate the boy­cotting by stu­dents of such events. While I may be able to drop off and pick up my child, there are hun­dreds of par­ents who ab­so­lutely can­not af­ford to. School au­thor­i­ties, par­ents, ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials, youth work­ers, I im­plore you - take a stand for the chil­dren of this land.

The Wheels on the Bus don’t al­ways go Round and Round for Saint Lu­cian stu­dents.

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