Curbing student violence Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
August 28, 2003

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THE decision by the Guyana Police Force and the National Community Policing Executive to work concertedly at curbing student violence is an innovation, from Guyana's perspective, and one for which they must be congratulated.

Like so much else, this initiative by the law enforcement partners couldn't come sooner.

When school reopens this coming Monday, students and their teachers will be returning to an environment that is more conducive to teaching and learning.

Yet, that very environment risks having to compete for student attention with the influence of television, music, the Internet, undisciplined adult behaviour - and the pressure of fellow students demonstrating their yearning to be the center of attention.

A chilling example is that of a student brutally attacking a teacher on September 13, 2000.

Says New York State United Teachers of that incident: "After a hectic morning preparing the day's test, Dawn Jawrower, then a teacher at Roosevelt High in Yonkers, was anxious to start class. Her students had begun working, when she heard a knock at the door.

"'I opened the door a bit, saw it was one of my students and asked what she wanted,' said Jawrower.

"Those were the last words Jawrower spoke that March 1998 morning before a 15-year-old student struck her seven to eight times in the head with a hammer as her class watched in horror. Jawrower, a member of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, was five weeks' pregnant.

"Thanks to the intervention of three students, who subdued her assailant and ran for help, Jawrower, and her unborn child, survived."

In another case, a veteran teacher who tried to break up a fight by rival sisters ended up, to take a discredited metaphor, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

During the scuffle, one of the sisters wrenched the teacher's arm so severely that today, nine years later, she still lives in constant pain, has limited arm function and attends physical therapy three times a week. Worse, the injury prematurely ended her 23-year career as an art teacher and cost her thousands of dollars in her pension.

No teacher in Guyana has been the victim of such vicious attacks. On the other hand, physical assaults by students against teachers are not unique to Guyana. Neither are assaults against teachers by relatives of students, or assaults against students by other students.

Hence, we applaud and urge nationwide support for the plan by the Police Force and the Community Policing Executive not only to curb violent physical attacks on school personnel and students in the school environment, but also to encourage students to observe the rules and regulations governing the safe use of our roads.

Hopefully, their initiative will be enough to deter tempered, abusive students from walking with and using sharp, violence-prone weapons to resolve misunderstandings with a teacher or with a peer. If that doesn't work, our educators and legislators may have to turn to countries such as Canada, Great Britain and the United States for new ideas on how to de-escalate student conflict and class violence.

In New York, for instance, the Safe Schools legislation, signed into law in July 2000 after years of New York State United Teachers lobbying, gives teachers the authoritative voice they need to maintain classroom discipline. The law makes teacher attacks Class D felonies; gives teachers the authority to remove disruptive students from the classroom; and mandates character education instruction for students, among other initiatives.

When on Monday we urged the extension of the Guyana Tourism Authority's bad manners campaign to the classroom, we did reiterate our call for character development to be included in the school curriculum and taught from nursery school upwards.

We believe the Ministry of Education is taking note and is gearing to give the initiators of the 'bad manners' and 'curb-student-violence' campaigns whatever support they're going to need to ensure tangible result of their commitment.