Ministry, police probing teacher head-bashing at Lodge school
Suspect in hiding, expulsion likely By Iana Seales
Stabroek News
March 13, 2004

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The Ministry of Education and the police have launched an investigation into an incident on Wednesday at the Lodge Community High School, in which a student struck a teacher.

The teacher, Brian Balgobin, 21, of Industry, East Coast Demerara who was subsequently hospitalised with a swollen head, has requested a transfer and says he will leave the profession if it is not granted. The student involved, a 16-year-old, has since gone into hiding.

Assistant Chief Education Officer (Department of Georgetown) Joseph Gilgeous said yesterday the ministry is looking into the matter which has created unrest among the teachers at the school. Gilgeous said his department has taken a report of the incident and after the investigation it is likely that expulsion will be recommended in light of the troubling circumstances.

According to him, the incident has raised immense concern among educators and as such prompt action is essential. Confirming that reports of grave concern have been coming from the school, Gilgeous said the ministry intends to deal with the offenders.

Gilgeous, who met teachers at the school yesterday to discuss the situation, said the Head Teacher was asked to submit the names of the offenders to the ministry. He added that the ministry will grant the injured teacher's request for a transfer, as well as look towards security for the rest of the staff.

Reports reaching this newspaper are that the student in question is 16 years old and in the Second Form. He is said to have repeatedly failed the final-term examinations.

Gilgeous said the recent introduction of 'Universal Secondary Education' in the local school system makes provision for repeaters and also protects them from being expelled.

He explained that since students in community high schools are now allowed to write the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations, repeated failure at school examinations does not provide cause for ejection.

The attack on the teacher sparked widespread criticism within the school's teaching body and later led to a boycott of classes by the staff.

Demanding that the student in question be expelled, teachers staged a protest citing the lack of safety in the classroom. The ministry was forced to respond as the educators called for immediate action.

A release yesterday said Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that officials in his ministry believe that there needs to be some institutional strengthening work to address issues such as this one.

Meanwhile, Balgobin was discharged from hospital yesterday. Balgobin told Stabroek News he was fortunate to have sustained a mere temporary swelling to the head as a result of the attack and not a fractured skull as had been reported in other sections of the press.

On the road to recovery and adamant that he has worn out his welcome at the school, Balgobin has vowed never to return. He said if the ministry fails to grant him a transfer his teaching days are over.

Relating Wednesday's incident, a sad Balgobin recalled that the student approached him with the "usual rage" earlier that day after he warned the boy about violating a no-passing zone.

Balgobin said he withdrew and left the boy who then started to raise his voice in order to stage a show for his buddies. Sometime later, a school competition started and the whole school was involved except for the 16-year-old and his friends.

As Balgobin was making his way to the competition, the boy stood at the entrance to the stairway and challenged him to pass. The confrontation lasted a mere minute before the teacher managed to slip pass.

Balgobin said he later returned to his classroom and was seated for a few minutes when the boy jabbed him with a piece of wood through a hole in the wall behind him and challenged him to a fight. Balgobin said he got up and went in search of the student. He said the boy saw him coming and ran towards him with the piece of wood. Before he could react, he was dealt a blow to the head which sent him crashing to the ground in an unconscious state.

Balgobin was taken to the hospital where he was admitted. The boy fled the school and is still in hiding.

The teacher said the boy is part of a notorious gang in the school. He said the gang is behind numerous school brawls and is out of control.

Balgobin recalled that earlier this year one of the suspected gang members stabbed a security guard at the school with an ice-pick. The incident had reportedly stemmed from a disagreement between the guard and the student.

A release from the Police Public Relations Department said yesterday that investigations are continuing into the incident.

According to the police, efforts are being made to locate the 16-year-old suspect. The police said based on investigations so far, they are led to believe that delinquent students form themselves into gangs in schools. They pointed out that while this is a new development in Guyana, it poses a serious potential danger to teachers and students.

In this regard, the force will be conducting appropriate activities, focusing on schools, with the intention of making the school environment safer and preventing these gangs from establishing roots; robbing students and threatening teachers.

The force is calling on parents, teachers and guardians to continue to cooperate with the law enforcement officials to ensure that such occurrences become a thing of the past.

Balgobin said that several months ago the student who struck him had threatened to end his life. The threat came after Balgobin warned the boy not to interfere with the other students who are there to learn.

The teacher said he had foreseen problems arising at the school since his first day on the job. According to him, the majority of students at the school lack discipline.

Balgobin, who is a final year University of Guyana student, said he started teaching because of his desire to share knowledge. The young teacher said he now doubts his choice to fulfil that desire. "Living in fear of the classroom is scary and also alarming. I will not go back at Lodge but my heart goes out to those teachers who face it everyday."

Teachers at the school have expressed concerns for their safety. Senior Mistress Miss English who has been at the school for eight-odd years said the teaching body has run out of options.

She described the attack on Balgobin as "dreadful". According to her, the student in question has always posed a threat to teachers at the school.

English said the school is full of troubled children. Gross indiscipline is shown throughout the various forms at Lodge CHS according to her. Students have crossed respect barriers, English said. She said the teachers have always been in fear but remained silent for the sake of their purpose to educate.

English said the boy who attacked Balgobin is one of many who posed a threat. She recommends that the Education Ministry intervene at this time before death instead of injury is a result.

She added that the time has come for the ministry to step in and create changes. Changes that will see to the teachers' safety while correcting the problems that are plaguing the school.

English reasoned that if this is not done teachers might turn from their profession. She said that though indiscipline is evident in the majority of schools across the country Lodge CHS is among those schools leading the way.

Last November, a first-form student of West Demerara Secondary School attacked a teacher with a broken bottle, leading to a physical altercation.

The child was reportedly wounded above one of the eyes. Reports are that on October 30, the day prior to the altercation, the student was accused of stabbing one of his classmates with a piece of wood.

Before that incident, a student of North Georgetown Secondary was accused of threatening his teacher's life. The student had struck the male teacher with a piece of wood, fracturing his arm. The matter was later settled in court.