It is an offence to “harbour” students, including at business places, during school hours.
Minister of Education, Curtis King issued the reminder in Parliament recently as he responded to a question from opposition senator Shevern John about the duties of school attendance officers.
“Now, it is important to remind members of the general public especially that the school attendance officers do have authority to carry out their functions; authority, which is provided by the law,” he said during the Nov. 23 sitting of the national assembly.
“I say it because close to many schools throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there are several establishments, where in many cases, students loiter at these establishments.
“But the owners and operators of these establishments try to hide behind the excuse that ‘Look, I did not encourage them to come here. On their way to school they stay. And I have to make a living. So, I’m selling.'”
King, a retired principal, said he has seen this because from time to time he goes to school districts during school hours and sees students at such establishments.
“I alight my vehicle and go and ask the students to go to school,” the education minister said. “I’m not going to pass them and go to the school. As an educator, I can’t function like that.”
He said a school attendance officer who has reasonable cause to believe that a person is harbouring students during school hours can present their credentials to the person and enter the premises to seek out any child of school age there.
The minister said that upon presentation of his or her credentials, a school attendance officer can enter any premises and make inquiries so as to determine whether a child of compulsory school age is frequenting, visiting, residing or employed on the premises.
“And that speaks to the point I made earlier. So that persons must know that it is an offence to encourage, and as people say, harbour, students on your premises during school hours,” King said.
He said that the Education Act provides for school attendance officers, whose duties include ensuring that students of compulsory school age — 5 to 16 — attend school.
The school attendance officers are also to monitor occurrences of unexcused or unauthorised absenteeism, which may indicate a pattern of at-risk or potential student dropout.
They are also responsible for locating students who are habitually missing from school and conduct periodic school visits, which helps to identify students who are truant.
School attendance officers are also to conduct home visits and locate students who are truant as well as ensure compliance with compulsory attendance law.
They are to report issues of concern to Child Services or law enforcement. They are also authorised to stop and question during school hours and about their school attendance any child who appears to be of school age.
King said that the school attendance officers are supervised by the chief education officer.
He said the officer can inquire into every suspected case of unlawful failure to attend school within his or her knowledge or when required to do so by the chief education officer, or, by the principal of a school.
A school attendance officer can also give to the parents of a child who has not attended school a written warning of the consequences of the child’s failure to attend school or a written notice to cause the child to attend school forthwith.
King said if a student is absent from school without permission, a school attendance officer may apprehend and deliver the student to his or her parents or to the school from which he or she is absent.
“Basically, what this is saying is, the school attendance officer has the power, has the authority to arrest any student of school age who is not in school. And he or she can either take that student to the school or to the parents,” the minister said.
“So, the listening public needs to make note of this.”
He said school attendance officers can stop and question any child who appears to be of compulsory school age who is not in school about his or her name, age, place of residence, identity of his or her parents, the school at which he or she is registered, the reason for his or her absence from school, and any other matter related to the school attendance officers duties.
“I have to indicate this because some people feel that the school attendance officer does not have the authority or the right to question their children, as they say,” King said.