By Kenton X. Chance
Fourteen students of the Union Island Secondary School were, at the beginning of the new school year, told that there will no longer be spaces there for them.
The students were reportedly expelled because of poor performance even as they have turned 18 or will attain that age soon.
iWitness News was unsuccessful in repeated attempts on Wednesday to reach the Chief Education Officer and the senior education officer with responsibility for secondary schools.
We were told that they were in meetings and, up to the time of publishing this story, neither of the officials had returned a call to us as requested.
Principal of the southern Grenadine school, Vernette Ollivierre, referred iWitness News to the Ministry of Education when we contacted her on Wednesday.
“I don’t have any comment to make,” Ollivierre said and inquired about whether iWitness News was planning to publish an article about the development.
“I cannot make a comment on that unless I speak to my superiors, who are the Ministry of Education,” she further said.
Asked if she was in a position to comment on whether the students were in fact expelled from the school, Ollivierre said: “I’d rather not make any comment at all.”
iWitness News understands that the students –both males and females — were expelled because they have reached or are about to turn age 18 and did not pass the last school year’s exams.
Some of them were in form 3, while others were in form 4.
But the expulsion of at least one of the students could contravene the Education Act.
The relevant part of the law says, “A student shall not without the written permission of the Chief Education Officer be retained in a public secondary school or an assisted private secondary school after the end of the academic year in which the student attains the age of 19 years.”
One of the students who were expelled from the school is a male who turns 18 in November.
He told iWitness News that he went to the school to deal with his books the week before school reopened and a friend asked the librarian about rumours of students being expelled.
The former student said the librarian took out a list and he saw his name on it.
He told iWitness News he asked why was his name on the list and the librarian said he was among the students who were not performing well in school and would turn 18 soon.
“And she used the word ‘superannuated’,” the student said.
He said that at the end of the last school year, his report card said that he had to repeat form 4.
“I came 12th and I failed because only one person in my class passed,” the student said, telling iWitness News that there were 22 students in the class.
The student was able to access secondary education under the government’s universal access to secondary education policy, as part of the “education revolution”.
He said that when he wrote the Common Entrance examination at age 13 as a student of the Mary Hutchinson Primary School he did not pass and only one member of his class did.
The former student said he was studying construction, technical drawing, mathematics, English language, physical education, physics, and electronic document preparation at the Union Island Secondary School.
The former student is out of school with nothing to do.
“I was planning to get back in school but my mother called and she (the principal) said she is not taking us back, the staff said they are not taking us back,” the former student told iWitness News.
“The principal had told me that she was giving me up to December, and if I don’t perform between now and December, she would put me out. My mother is in Grenada and … she called and the principal said she is not taking me back in school, the staff said they are not taking me back.”
The student said he only had a problem with one teacher.
“She used to be throwing me out of class often saying I’m disturbing the class [but] it was not me. It was a boy who’s sitting down next to me.”
The student said he is not happy that he has not been able to finish secondary school.
“I feel bad because I was willing to go back. I know I made my mistake by failing. I know I have the potential to do what I have to do. I feel bad because I wanted to go back.”
He said while he was thinking of going to evening classes, they aren’t being offered on the island.
A source with knowledge of the operations of the Union Island Secondary School told iWitness News on Wednesday that students of the institution have been allowed as recently as two years ago to graduate at age 21.
A career educator told iWitness News on Wednesday that notwithstanding the Education Act of 2006, some schools are still operating under their old in-house policies, which differ from school to school.
The educator said that there is a secondary school in eastern St. Vincent where students have spend three years in one form.
The thinking of the leadership of that school is that no student should be left behind.
The educator, however, said he was hard-pressed to see that happening in one of the nation’s “elite” schools in Kingstown, where the policy is to ask the Ministry of Education for a change of environment for any student who repeats a class twice.
The educator told iWitness News that the “education revolution” has not been evaluated since its introduction and therefore a number of issues have been left unresolved.