The principals of the nation’s 26 secondary schools have come out in support of their colleague, Calma Balcombe, after a court ordered last week that a student be allowed to continue her education at the St. Joseph’s Convent Kingstown (SJCK).
Further, the school’s PTA is expected to meet Thursday evening to formulate a response, even as president of the association, Junior Bacchus, suggested on radio Wednesday night that the 14-year-old Form 4 student was a problematic pupil.
Lawyer Jomo Thomas is representing the student and her mother.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Chief Education Officer, Lou-Anne Gilchrist; Senior Education Officer with responsibility for Secondary Schools, Asfo Stephens; Principal, Balcombe, and the Ministry of Education.
The Ministry of Education has not commented publicly on the case even as it led to a disruption of classes at the SJCK on Monday and Tuesday.
I-Witness News was unsuccessful in its attempt on Wednesday to speak with Gilchrist or Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Nicole Bonadie-Baker at their offices in Kingstown.
Up to mid-morning Thursday, they had not returned telephone calls, as requested.
However, based on the lawyer’s account, the student was suspended for two days and given a zero on a quiz after an “incident” had occurred in the second term of the last school year.
The lawyer did not detail the incident, but I-Witness News understands that the teacher, in a written comment on the student’s work, said it was untidy.
I-Witness News further understands that the student wrote a “rude” response under the teacher’s comment and the teacher found it there when the student subsequently submitted work for assessment in the same exercise book.
After the suspension, the student returned to school and completed the school year, and was given a report card saying she was promoted to Form 4s, the lawyer said.
The lawyer further told I-Witness News that the student was also given a letter addressed to the principal of the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia, saying that the student was being transferred there and asking that the principal extend to the student the necessary courtesies.
But, the court on Friday ordered that the student continue her studies at the SJCK until the matter is resolved.
When the mother took the student to school on Monday, the teachers walked out, leading to a suspension of classes that day and on Tuesday.
Classes resumed yesterday and the student is said to have been placed in Form 4C, as opposed to Form 4S.
But the SVG Association of Principals of Secondary Schools said on Wednesday that it met on Tuesday and “the administrators of the 26 secondary schools in the country have expressed their firm support of the procedures followed by Ms. Calma Balcombe, Principal of the St. Joseph’s Convent Kingstown in her interaction with a former student of the SJCK.
“The principals unanimously agree that their fellow principal took the requisite disciplinary action in response to the student’s misconduct,” the release further said.
“In addition to this, the Association is satisfied that the principal of the SJCK appropriately informed the student’s parent of the decisions taken in response to the student’s unacceptable behaviour.
“What is more, the Association views with deep concern what seems to be the judicial over-reach that has resulted in the principal of the SJCK being served with a court order designed to reinstate the student with immediate effect.”
The statement said that the precedent being set by the court action “seeks to undermine the informed, established dynamics of the principles of administration.
“This precedent allows the Association to question the agenda of bodies charged with upholding law, order and discipline in our society. The SVG Association of Principals of Secondary Schools reminds the society that before it is a body of teachers, principals and administrators, it is first and foremost a body of parents charged with the responsibility of guiding and moulding our children in a disciplined manner,” the principal further said.
The development has lit up a firestorm on social media, with persons coming down on either side of the issue, even as many questions remain about other factors that might have led to the school’s decision.
Some have supported the decision of the SJCK — a government-assisted Catholic school — that has a long tradition of discipline and decorum.
Others have questioned the logic of the decision, saying that it amounts to transferring a “problem” from one institution to another.
A major question still remains unanswered in light of the unanimous support of the principals on the decision taken by their SJCK colleague: will all of the nation’s secondary schools refused to accept the student?
Statement from Trinidad
The SJCK is a school under the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, whose board of management is based in Port-of-Spain.
The schools under the leadership of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny carry a legacy dating in this region from 1836 and the Cluny Board of Management issued a release on Wednesday.
The release said the schools were “established to reflect the Christian values as espoused by the Catholic Church.
“Our mission is to educate the whole person. Principals and Teachers seek to instill discipline in our young people and Christian values and principles by preparing them spiritually, intellectually and socially for life,” the release said, but did not refer to the development at SJCK.
“Some of the core values that characterize our life and activity are, obedience, truthfulness, honesty, humility, respect for oneself, for one’s companions and those in authority, propriety in conversation, behavior and dress, as well as Regular attendance at school.
“Schools under the aegis of the Cluny Board of Management are expected to embrace these aforementioned values. They help to create the ethos of the Cluny Catholic school and students attending these schools are expected to abide by the rules and regulations as expressed by each school.
“Parents and guardians of children attending the Cluny Catholic schools are expected to respect these values so that the philosophy of the Cluny Catholic school may be kept alive.
“Should the policies expressed therein not be upheld the School Management has the authority to act as it deems necessary,” the release said.