Minister, police: Patrols helped curb school violence

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Nyan Gadsby-Dolly –

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has said a heavy police presence has been implemented in schools identified by the ministry as having higher instances of violence.

Gadsby-Dolly was speaking during a press conference at the ministry’s St Vincent Street, Port of Spain head office on Friday. Assistant Commissioner of Police (Criminal Division) Sharon Gomez-Cooper added the police presence at schools has helped to reduce incidents.

“Because of children’s violent behaviour at schools, (police) saw a need to partner with the ministry,” said Gomez-Cooper.

She said police patrols during peak hours, such as in the morning before schools start, have helped to keep the peace.

Gomez-Cooper said officers remain stationed at the schools for a period of time and would also go into the schools and speak to liaison officers during their patrols.

“They would come back in the evening, paying attention to those schools (and) violence in the schools are down to almost zero.”

She said the TTPS also intends to host lectures with students and assist them in their transition from primary school to secondary school, which has been identified as a difficult time for many students.

“They may not be able to handle that particular environment. We need to get to them and have one on one conversation to ensure their transition is smooth.

Gadsby-Dolly said, while the ministry initially intended to have police officers posted at the school, it has since modified that approach.

“We noticed their presence was a problem in terms of accommodation for police. They became like guards. In order to maintain the distance between school security and the police service, they (engage in) regular patrols and on-call availability at schools.”

Chief Education Officer Dr Peter Smith said school fights being broadcast and circulated on social media remain a concern for the ministry.

He said the multi-disciplinary technical team, convened in April and led by Gadsby-Dolly, recently submitted a draft of the national school matrix which identifies three levels of student infractions.

Minor infractions, such as dress code violations; major infractions, such as disorderly or disruptive conduct; and severe infractions, such as fights and sexual harassment.

He said the ministry is also considering a merit/demerit system and has examined preventative strategies, including peer counselling, student support, parenting in education and a prefect system.

Smith said incidents of violence in 2018-2019, the most infractions occurred with form two students at 25 per cent and form three students at 22 per cent. In comparison, more incidents occurred among form one students in 2021-2022.

He also said fights with or without weapons, the use of drugs and sexual misconduct were some of the most common infractions.

Smith said a meeting with principals of the schools facing these challenges has been carded for June 9 to discuss the increase of security and adding dedicated guidance councillors, school social workers and special education instructors.