JIS News

The Safe Schools Programme, the government scheme designed to quell school-based violence by placing law enforcement officers at troubled institutions, will be intensifying its programme of activities for the new school year.
Coordinator and Secretariat of the Safe Schools Programme in the National Security Ministry, Monica Dystant, told JIS News that several consultants would be contracted to the programme between September and October and they were expected to spearhead a range of activities to intensify offerings.
These include providing additional training for parents, students, teachers and guidance counsellors in areas such as mediation, conflict resolution techniques and life skills. The public education aspect of the programme would also be strengthened, Ms. Dystant informed.
Initiated in 2004, the Safe Schools Programme involves officers from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) acting as School Resource Officers (SROs) to mentor troubled students in targeted institutions and mediate in disputes, in addition to collaborating with the school administration to identify and monitor areas on their compounds that pose potential danger to students. It is being implemented by the Ministries of National Security and Education, Youth and Culture.
Ms. Dystant noted that while initially, some principals were apprehensive about the placement of the police in the schools, perceptions have since improved. “I believe the principals would have been more comfortable with the approaches that they are familiar with, but since then, we have seen where persons have settled down; school administrators seem to be a lot more comfortable these days,” she told JIS News.
She attributed the change of heart to the various conferences held and the efforts of the SROs to ensure that students and school administrators were comfortable with their presence and approach. “We have seen a greater level of comfort and it is not so much now a difficulty. It was largely perception at the time; we have a level of success with the police component of the programme in the schools since last year,” the programme coordinator pointed out.
In terms of the achievement of targets, Ms. Dystant told JIS News that progress had been made in the widening of the number of formally recognized partners, the undertaking or security audits of the school grounds to detect weaknesses, and addressing truancy.
She informed that a survey of the performance of SROs in the schools was in progress, while the report on the findings of the security audits had been made available. The report shows, that while most schools were located in peaceful areas, some were in need of perimeter fencing and fencing repairs while others were more at risk because of vending activities.
Ms. Dystant said that the findings have necessitated a closer look at the schools, to see what amendments could be made to enable the success of the SROs. She opined that improving school security, would also increase the attractiveness of the programme to potential partners, several of whom have come on board following two sensitization seminars held in June.
Meanwhile, the programme coordinator informed that a proposal for funding has been submitted to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), to see how best the initiative can be extended to juvenile institutions.The Safe Schools Programme, which is expected to operate over a five-year period, is due for its annual evaluation, which will be undertaken by research consultants.
The more than 80 schools that participate in the programme have been categorized into three groups. Category A involves those schools considered high risk based on the high level of violent incidences and the areas in which the schools are located.
Schools in Category B have moderate levels of reported violence and anti-social behaviours, whilst Category C includes schools are considered low risk and are not prone to violent incidences but are a part of the programme in its drive to reach as many institutions as possible.
Each institution is required to plan and implement school specific safety measures to achieve violence prevention and reduction targets.
The programme is funded through allocations from the National Security Ministry under the European Commission-funded Social and Economic Reform Programme (SERP 111) and the Citizens Security and Justice Programme.
Some targets outlined at the outset included: widening the number of formally recognized partners; conducting security audits of the grounds of the schools to detect weaknesses in the security arrangements and working alongside schools to address the truancy problem.