Par­ents Con­cerned

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kayra Williams

An in­creas­ing num­ber of par­ents are con­cerned about the se­cu­rity of their chil­dren who at­tend pri­vately man­aged schools on is­land, one of which was re­cently in the head­lines over re­ports that sev­eral of its stu­dents had been in­volved in sex tapes cir­cu­lated in the pub­lic do­main. Ac­cord­ing to teach­ers who re­quested anonymity, the videos were only the tip of the ice­berg; much had been go­ing on that was be­ing kept un­der wraps.

Over the past months the school in ques­tion has suf­fered an un­usu­ally high teacher turnover rate that has left stu­dents on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in class­rooms with lit­tle to no su­per­vi­sion. Re­ports reach­ing this writer in­di­cate more prob­lems ahead due to staff res­ig­na­tions, for rea­sons as­so­ci­ated with the cur­rent state of af­fairs at the school, as well as in­ad­e­quate salaries.

Par­ents have ac­cused the school’s church-ap­pointed board of cover-ups, while mak­ing no real ef­fort to get to the bot­tom of the scan­dals and ru­morus that have ad­versely af­fected the par­tic­u­lar school. Ahead of the new school year, dozens of par­ents have trans­ferred their chil­dren back into the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem while oth­ers are left un­sure of what to do next.

Ac­cord­ing to one teacher, stu­dents head­ing to the up­per forms have been the hard­est hit. Only a few months away from CXC ex­am­i­na­tions, SBAs for many sub­jects, typ­i­cally sub­mit­ted by Fe­bru­ary of the exam year, have not been pre­sented to stu­dents. New teach­ing re­cruits say they were shocked to dis­cover just how far be­hind were the stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly those headed for fifth form.

Paul Nep­tune (not his real name), a teacher who re­cently started work­ing at the school, re­ported that he was wast­ing time try­ing to im­prove mat­ters. He said things had de­te­ri­o­rated to the point that some stu­dents were be­ing la­belled as “bad ap­ples” for act­ing out, with not much of an ef­fort by school au­thor­i­ties at in­ter­ven­tion.

“Some of th­ese stu­dents come from homes where they live with all sorts of is­sues,” he said. “They don’t have the best in­flu­ences from their par­ents, and they come into the school and you can see what they are go­ing through re­flected in their be­hav­iour. Yet, there is no coun­sel­lor presently at the school. What do we re­ally ex­pect from th­ese stu­dents?”

To fur­ther com­pli­cate the sit­u­a­tion, sev­eral stu­dents have been forced to spend in­de­ter­mi­nate amounts of time at home as a re­sult of the par­ents’ in­abil­ity to pay school fees rang­ing from ap­prox­i­mately $1,500 to $2,500 an­nu­ally. Af­fected par­ents re­vealed that stu­dents are con­stantly sent home if their bal­ance is not up to date, and arevnot al­lowed to re­turn un­til the prob­lem has been set­tled.

“For a Chris­tian school,” yet an­other par­ent told me,“that is just not good enough. There needs to be a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of our predica­ment.”

The mother, who did not want to be named, said she was aware of at least five other stu­dents who’d been out of school, one for two en­tire terms. They were ex­pected to re­turn to the in­sti­tu­tion in Septem­ber.

An­other par­ent re­ported that she was un­sure whether she wanted to keep her “spe­cial needs son” at the school, with all its unat­tended prob­lems. With hopes that things would change with the ap­point­ment of a new school prin­ci­pal, she en­rolled him for the new school year but later was in­formed by a mem­ber of the school ad­min­is­tra­tion that the new prin­ci­pal, who took of­fice two months ago, “will not last very long”.

Re­ports in­di­cate that at­tempts by the school’s new prin­ci­pal to im­prove the sta­tus quo have been met with re­sis­tance.

“I feel bad for some of the teach­ers in that school,” the woman told me. “They come with good in­ten­tions but the sys­tem is what it is and no one re­ally seems in­ter­ested or bold enough to do what must be done, for var­i­ous rea­sons in­clud­ing per­sonal sur­vival.”

She added: “It’s un­for­tu­nate be­cause so many of th­ese stu­dents come ei­ther from the church, or from fam­i­lies who just pre­fer them to have this Chris­tian ed­u­ca­tion. Oth­ers come from schools that could not han­dle them. For stu­dents like that, this is their last re­sort. To see things fall­ing apart like this is heart­break­ing.”

Speak­ing on the largely un­ad­dressed is­sue of stu­dent sex tapes - hardly some­thing new here - Paul Nep­tune said: “It’s out of con­trol. You have th­ese videos go­ing around, with fe­male stu­dents en­gag­ing in sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties with mul­ti­ple males. Stu­dents even have sex on cam­pus, and peo­ple turn a blind eye.

“When it is a re­li­gious school you tend to ex­pect bet­ter but it seems the an­swer is to sweep ev­ery­thing un­der the car­pet and pre­tend all is well. Those in author­ity are re­luc­tant to ac­knowl­edge what is go­ing on, let alone ac­cept help or to con­sider re­di­rect­ion. The young peo­ple de­serve bet­ter. Re­gard­less of their mis­for­tunes and the con­se­quences they should not be aban­doned. They rep­re­sent our fu­ture, af­ter all.”

The STAR con­tacted a school prin­ci­pal this week, per­chance to dis­cuss the on­line sex tapes. She said she was aware of only one case of “such gross sex­ual mis­con­duct” which her school had al­ready “dealt with”.

“From the school’s stand­point,” she said, “that mat­ter was brought to a close. A de­ci­sion was taken. That par­tic­u­lar case in­volved a fe­male stu­dent from the school and a male from an­other school.” The fe­male stu­dent was re­port­edly ex­pelled; it is not clear what were the con­se­quences for her part­ner in slime.

The prin­ci­pal ad­mit­ted that there were chal­lenges at her school.

“Some par­ents are frus­trated, it is true,” she said. “Many of them have come and told me they are re­mov­ing their chil­dren. There are ob­sta­cles in the way of the school’s progress and if they are not ap­pro­pri­ately dealt with, what­ever I might do on my own will have lit­tle or no im­pact.”

Ad­di­tion­ally: “From day one there have been chal­lenges. I am up for con­fronting them. I came in well pre­pared, and with an open mind. When peo­ple heard I had been given the job, many told me that they were happy I had been the one cho­sen. They knew I would do a good job. But they also warned to be very care­ful - and prayer­ful.”

As for the school’s other is­sues: “Those who are up there and who have the author­ity to make changes in the school’s struc­ture are well aware of the im­ped­i­ments.”

A new fac­ulty has re­port­edly been ap­pointed for the up­com­ing school year, but some par­ents re­main un­con­vinced they will see ap­pro­pri­ate im­prove­ments any time soon.

All ef­forts to reach par­tic­u­lar of­fi­cials at the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry proved fu­tile, for var­i­ous rea­sons in­clud­ing un­avail­abil­ity!

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