It’s like working in a penitentiary. Armed guards patrol the compound daily and staff have been told to use gloves when separating warring combatants to protect against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
This is the reality for teachers at a troubled secondary school in the Barataria/San Juan area who claim they are forced to operate in a war zone.
The teachers spoke on condition of anonymity and asked that the school not be identified, not out of fear of possible consequences from the Ministry of Education but violent reactions from their students.
One teacher said she was assaulted by a male student on the compound after she disciplined him for a minor infraction. She was so traumatised by the experience that she had to receive counselling and was eventually transferred out of the school.
In an0ther disturbing incident, a Form Three student was raped in a secluded area at the back of the school.
The group of four teachers said they decided to speak out about conditions at the school following another violent incident last Friday. They said a video of the incident posted on social media shows a female student throwing a rock and shattering the windscreen of a teacher’s vehicle.
The target was a dean who had earlier been heard arguing with a student who had cut classes.
“While the student is not overtly violent, she is one who is underhanded and will sit and plan for you,” one of the teachers said.
Another teacher who interacts with the student daily, said: “This is not an enraged child. She was heard telling the dean that she will do for her later.”
The teachers claimed their appeals for the Ministry of Education have been largely ignored because “they only want to make sure the school is open regardless of issues.”
According to the teachers, there are also infrastructural issues at the school which floods everything it rains heavily although it is located on a hill. There is also a rat infestation.
The group said a teacher was recently “manhandled” by students and after her car was vandalized twice by angry students, one of the teachers said: “I now rush to park in front the office because they once used a stone to let down my tyres and they keyed another teacher’s car.”
Another commented: “I hardly have students who come from a two-parent household. They don’t know how to respond to love because they don’t know what that is. Their discipline is roughness and violence.”
The teachers are concerned that criminal gang culture has infiltrated the school. There have been incidents where reputed gangsters have blocked the school gates and even lined the road waiting to accost those who oppose or discipline their members.
The issues have been raised with the T&T Unified Teacher’s Association (TTUTA) representative at the school who seemed to be overwhelmed by what is going on.
They are appealing to Education Minister Anthony Garcia to intervene and implement hard-line measures to protect students and teachers.
Contacted for comment, an Education Ministry official said there has been a general decline in school violence but some acts are being “perpetrated by a handful of students who are intent on being disruptive and we do have to move to deal with it in a decisive manner.”
The official added: “While the Ministry recognises the right of a student to an education, that student does not have the right to deprive other students of their right to an education, and if it means taking them out of the system, we will have no compulsion in removing them for the greater good of others.”