NPTA responds to gunfire near schools: Wider crime solutions needed

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Parent-Teacher Association president Kevin David. –

ROSE Hill RC Primary School in Laventille is due to re-open on Monday after last Monday’s incident where young pupils and their teacher had to cower on the floor during an exchange of gunfire between rival gangs nearby.

National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) president Kevin David told Newsday on Thursday evening that Ministry of Education officials had agreed to the re-opening at a meeting with the association. He said this would be under an enhanced police presence, although he had not yet received specifics.

David said Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds had attended the meeting. Newsday was unable to contact Hinds up to press time.

Since the shooting, the school had been operating online with pupils at home.

David said the meeting had heard that affected pupils and staff at Rose Hill were due to be offered counselling.

“That information will be forthcoming later on from the Ministry of Education. The Student Support Service usually handles this.”

Asked how the teacher – seen in a video posted online calming her young charges – and the pupils themselves have been coping with the traumatic event, he said no specific details were provided about this at the meeting.

David lamented the incident at Rose Hill but said wider solutions were needed against crime beyond the specifics of this latest incident.

He said shootings were occurring near other schools and in many communities, and needed a wider societal solution.

David said the Rose Hill incident was “very terrifying” but it was not the only school affected.

“This is a social and national security issue,” he said. “This has nothing to do with education.”

He said such incidents have been happening for a very long time.

“We have to take a greater stance in how we deal with these issues, with all stakeholders – education, civil society, churches.

“There are too many guns on the streets, not just handguns, but high-powered weapons, in the hands of young adults, age 20-25.”

He said the Rose Hill incident could not be resolved just by the NPTA holding talks.

Newsday asked about any immediate, short-term measures in response to the Rose Hill incident.

He said pupils would need counselling.

“It will have to be ongoing, as it is something happening quite regularly.”

David said reports were of gunfire every night in areas of Port of Spain and environs.

“Issues in the underworld, bubbling up, resulted in this gunfire.”

On calls to relocate the school, he said similar calls had been made before when such incidents had happened at other schools but he had not supported relocation.

“A school is a part of the community. We need to identify real issues in the community and get real solutions.”

David said his heart went out to the teacher who had protected her pupils and to the youngsters.

Asked if he had a message to the men doing the shooting, he asked them to recall that when they were boys they had wanted to go to school in safety.

“The concept of civil society is that each generation brings a level of improvement to the previous generation. We need to check ourselves.”

He lamented that while many gang members may believe they will not live beyond a certain young age, such thoughts should not be regarded as a normal reality.