Clare Hall Secondary School teachers stage industrial action amid security concerns

Parents assembled outside the gates of Clare Hall Secondary School yesterday as teachers took industrial action (Photo by Robert A Emmanuel)
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By Robert A. Emmanuel

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Irate teachers at the Clare Hall Secondary School (CHSS) took industrial action yesterday morning to protest the lack of adequate police presence at the school compound, while some parents removed their children amid security concerns.

CHSS Principal Ashworth Azille informed Observer yesterday afternoon they had to end sessions earlier than usual as only one police officer was stationed at the school – one less than the two requested by the teachers.

“Teachers would have identified the standard for returning to the classroom and that would have been the presence of two police officers on campus. That was not done today, and staff opted to sit-in … as a consequence, we were forced to dismiss classes earlier than normal,” he said.

On Friday, CHSS teachers requested two police officers to be on the grounds, and at around 7.30am yesterday teachers arrived expecting their request to have been fulfilled, but only one police officer was present.

CHSS, which has 700 students and nearly 100 staff, has seen multiple troubling incidents in the span of a week. Last Wednesday, two masked young men armed with machetes and a golf club were videotaped breaching the premises, seemingly in search of someone. Then, over the weekend, several specialty classrooms, including the book room, the business lab, and the music room, were broken into.

Azille told Observer that a meeting had been held Monday afternoon between a union representative, a delegation of staff members, Ministry of Education officials and Director of Education Clare Browne.

He described the meeting as fruitful, saying the discussion focused on the steps already taken to improve security at CHSS and further actions needed.

He also revealed that he was given assurances that two police officers would be stationed on the school compound Tuesday and that he expected teachers to return to work today.

Earlier in the day, Observer media spoke to the staff representative for the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (ABUT), Paulette Hurst, who said, “The situation is we have been lacking security officers on the compound for quite a while now; it is just week before last we had to take action to get the two requested police officers.”

Several parents were seen outside the school compound yesterday, standing in solidarity with the teachers who were in discussions with the school officials over the next steps at the time.

Hurst, who is a form five teacher at the school, said she was thankful for the support of the parents in this situation.

“As teachers, we feel we always have to fight for the rights of everyone here, not just for ourselves but for our students, and to have the support of the parents, it feels good that they realise the safety and security is paramount,” she said.

One parent speaking to the media claimed that she could not feel safe at her workplace without knowing her only child would be safe at the school, and enquired into the possibility of having a soldier, in addition to a police officer, stationed there.

Meanwhile, the police officer stationed at the school yesterday told the parents that if they see any untoward incidents they should record it for the police, as this would provide greater assistance to the lawmen.

He also said that another police officer would be dispatched shortly. This was repeated by another officer who appeared on the scene after reportedly receiving a call from Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin.

The CHSS principal also spoke to the parents, who at the time were having discussions about whether to address their dissatisfaction with officials at the Ministry of Education.

Azille told parents that it was their right to express their concerns with the situation, but asked for patience as talks between teachers and other school officials were underway.

“I understand the position of the staff having experienced what they did on Tuesday, coupled with a number of security threats,” he said, and also expressed frustration at the break-in incident over the weekend.

“We are appealing to the soul and conscience of a community and a nation to be on the lookout … because every time there is an incursion like this, it disrupts the flow of school; classes must now be suspended as we are waiting for the [Criminal Investigation Department] to do their procedural investigations,” he noted.

Violence among and towards students has been a concern for education officials as they seek to beef up security measures.

Last year, a youth gang using machetes as their main weapon was revealed to be behind several attacks on schoolchildren.

Last Friday, it was reported that several youths attempted to attack students at the YMCA sports complex which was hosting a sports tournament at the time.

Government officials previously promised that they would introduce a series of measures, including a review of the child justice laws, and the installation of security cameras.

However, legislative changes are unlikely to occur before February 17 which is the first scheduled sitting of the new Parliament.

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