JIS News

With just four months since the implementation of the Safe Schools Programme, designed to stem violence in institutions of learning, the initiative has been receiving high marks from the parents, principals and students and the police who have been placed in the institutions as School Resource Officers (SRO).
“It has been going well so far”, says Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Norman Heywood of the Police Corporate Strategy Coordination Unit, which is in charge of the programme.
“We now have a programme creating security for teachers and students in the schools unlike before”, he tells JIS News, noting that, “incidences of violence and anti-social behaviour have decreased considerably since the placement of SROs in the schools”.
Importantly, he says, initial feelings of apprehension about the presence of the police in the schools have been ironed out and the police are now welcomed. “I think we have exceeded expectations even with the initial misconceptions.teachers can now focus on teaching and we have even had requests from schools which are not a part of the programme” he states further.
He informs however, that requests for schools to be added to the programme, could not be met until an evaluation, now underway, is completed.
While unable to give statistics as to interventions made, DSP Heywood informs that the programme is meeting the objectives of making the schools safer and creating a more favourable learning environment.
He notes that prior to the implementation of the programme, teachers had to constantly deal with disciplinary matters but now there is more order with the SRO’s presence. “There is now less teacher/student confrontation and fewer incidences of parents and guardians invading the schools”, he states.
The Safe Schools Programme was introduced in September against concerns about the increase in violence in schools, which left at least one student dead in 2004.
National Security Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips, speaking at the official launch of the programme in November, cited statistics, which showed that young people were responsible for 14 per cent of murders and 16 per cent of all rapes. He further noted that young men made up 75 per cent of inmates in the penal system. “Our schools have become battlegrounds manifesting violence and if our schools are in danger, then our future as a country is in trouble,” he had said.
As conceptualised, the Safe Schools Programme involves the placement of law enforcement officers from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) at 89 troubled schools islandwide. The officers are responsible for mentoring students and mediating in disputes; they work with the school administration to identify and monitor areas on the school compound that pose potential dangers to students; conduct security surveillance and truancy watches to ensure that students who should be in school are not on the streets; and conduct weapons surveillance.
“Its principal aim is to foster safe schools in safe communities where the physical, psychological and emotional environments are conducive to positive interaction and where the teaching and learning experience contribute substantially to socially adjusted students,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Oral Khan, chairman of the working committee for the Safe Schools Programme.
The over 80 schools that participate in the programme have been categorized into three groups based on the intensity of the problem and treatment to be applied. Category A entails schools, which are considered high-risk based on the high level of violent incidences and the areas in which the schools are located.
Category B looks at schools which have moderate levels of reported violence and anti-social behaviours; whilst Category C includes schools considered low-risk and are not prone to violent incidences but are a part of the programme due its drive to reach as many schools as possible.
Each institution is required to plan and implement school specific safety measures to achieve violence prevention and reduction targets.
One of the early problems that the SROs faced was apprehension on the part of students and teachers, to their presence in the schools.
“Initially, students were uncomfortable with us but after one-on-one discussions the students became more relaxed. This is what should be done in all the schools where this situation occurs,” suggests Constable Natalie Hall-Williams, the SRO at the Villa Road Primary and Junior High School in Manchester.
Constable Rohan James of the Admiral Town Police, who is in charge of the Charlie Smith High School, tells JIS News that the early problems of tension and distrust were due to that fact that the teachers were unaware that he was being placed at the school. “The teachers, I believe, were not briefed about my arrival at the school and.I had to conduct a meeting with them soon after my arrival” Constable James informs.
He notes however, that the problems have been worked out and the students have quickly adapted to the programme. In fact they were recently awarded with a trip to Ocho Rios, he says.
As part of his mandate, Constable James is to design a programme of social interaction for the students, which involves taking them on field trips to media houses, the Women’s Crisis Centre, and to the correctional centres, but the lack of adequate transportation has hampered this initiative. Even with this hindrance, he has high marks for the progress of the initiative in the school.
Principal of the school, Dennis Kelly, lauds the initiative and notes that he is particularly interested in the truancy aspect. “We don’t have much problems with violence and we can deal with other issues. However, we are concerned with the levels of absence from school by the students,” he tells JIS News.
According to the principal, some students attended school two or three times for the week and then gave weak excuses for their absence. He believes a number of these students have problems at home, which prevent them from attending school regularly.
But, DSP Heywood says that the truancy aspect of the programme will have to be “treated with caution” as there are no truancy laws in place. The SROs, he says, will have to persuade proprietors to discourage students from hanging out at their place of business during school hours.
Teachers at Charlie Smith also welcome the programme but point to the need to deal with the psychological trauma associated with violence.
Joan Dodd, a parent of a student at Charlie Smith, endorses the programme and feels that it will work “as long as everyone put hearts and hands together”.
The pogramme is funded from allocations given to the Ministry of National Security under the European Commission-funded Social and Economic Reform Programme and the Citizens Security and Justice Programme.
An evaluation of the programme is expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.

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