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The Safe Schools Programme has contributed to a sustained reduction in the instances of violence and social discord in primary and secondary schools and their associated communities, Education and Youth State Minister, Noel Monteith, has said.
“The programme has served to heighten public awareness of the issues impacting the safety of the learning environment,” he added.
In his contribution to the 2006/07 State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on November 10, Senator Monteith said that coalition building, the deployment of School Resource Officers (SROs), the provision of community safety and security scholarships and school/community consultations were helpful in stemming the issue of indiscipline in schools.
Additionally, the fencing of vulnerable schools as well as the installation of panic buttons in some schools were, according to Senator Monteith, high points of the joint venture initiative between the Ministry of Education and Youth and the Ministry of National Security.
“The programme is continuing to build a strong coalition, including Central Government agencies, the NGO community, the church community, the National Parent Teachers’ Association, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, the National Secondary Students’ Council and international agencies to address anti-social behaviour and issues to do with the safety of our schools and their environs,” the State Minister said.
Senator Monteith explained that the programme had “extended its mediation to the wider community as it is acknowledged that the situation in the surrounding community is critical to the safety of the school population”.
“The Programme, in partnership with the Victim Support Unit of the Ministry of Justice and the church community, have provided a response by way of counselling to victims, their families and others in the community who might be affected,” he added.
Turning to the deployment of SROs, Senator Monteith said that Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) personnel were now placed in some 100 schools.
“The SROs have received specialized training in conflict resolution, mediation and school safety planning and so represent a special asset for the schools to which they have been assigned. SROs have assisted schools with the surveillance of ‘hot spots’ on the compound, searches for weapons, security inspections, truancy watch as well as talks on good citizenship, security and related subjects,” the State Minister informed the Senate.
He further explained that the SROs were assisted, in some instances, by peace facilitators trained by the National Youth Service (NYS).
On the matter of capacity building in support of the Safe Schools Programme, he said Community Safety and Security Scholarships were being offered to parents and students from all education regions.
“The programme is currently offering scholarships to facilitate training to enhance parenting skills, train mentors for students and train student leaders as peer mediators through partnerships with HEART Trust, the NYS and other institutions that offer such training,” he noted.
Mr. Monteith said the Safe Schools Programme Task Force took the decision to stage community forums at selected schools that had been forced to suspend classes due to outbreaks of violence in their respective communities during the last school year.
The State Minister emphasised that the objectives of the school/community forums were to, among other things, “create awareness that the school is a valuable community asset that could serve as a catalyst to help promote community peace and development [and to] engage the schools and the community in a dialogue that would explore how school and community could collaborate to achieve and maintain a safe school and create a mutually beneficial relationship”.
In the meantime, he said the issue of the lack of proper perimeter fencing for several schools posed a major security problem, as intruders could gain easy access to school campuses.
“Based on data collected and documented by a police security survey report, a number of schools islandwide have been identified as having critical need for perimeter fencing. The programme has been advocating for physical security recommended by the report and I am pleased to say that.the Lift Up Jamaica Programme has constructed and repaired the perimeter fencing in several schools based on their work programme,” Senator Monteith informed.
“We have gone a little further, because we are making every effort to see how we can make the school a safe place, so we have put in place panic buttons for schools at special risk,” he added.
He said schools were selected based on the violence profile of the communities within which they are located, the history of incidents that have affected the schools and features of the school which contributed to insecurity.