However, officials of the Ministry of Education intervened when they learned of the report and ordered the district school supervisor to overturn the principal’s instructions to the school’s security to lock out students who arrive after the bell has rung.
The problem first arose at the beginning of the new term on January 9, when the principal reportedly issued instructions to the MTS security guards on duty at the school on Gordon Street, Mt Hope, to not let in students after 7.50 am, when the bell rang to signal the start of classes.
When Newsday visited the school yesterday, more than 50 students were seen standing outside the compound and sitting under the trees, hoping they would be allowed in.
The students claimed that in some instances, teachers would select their “favourites” to be allowed onto the compound. However, students who are not as fortunate are forced to brave inclement weather and expose themselves to danger while waiting outside the school. Last week, some students who had been locked out were robbed of cash, jewelry and cellphones, while other students said they became ill after being soaked in the rain as there was no place for them to shelter.
Some of the students that Newsday spoke with said while their parents were notified about the lockout, repeated attempts to have the principal’s decision over-turned has proven futile.
Students who live as far away as Sangre Grande, Wallerfield, Arima and Chaguanas complained of the challenges they faced in securing transportation, which made them late in arriving to school.
Some of the students also yesterday complained of being targeted for not wearing the proper uniform. They said the MTS security guards would order them out of the school if they did not have on the correct colour socks, if their school pants were too tight/skinny or if the girls’ skirts were not below their knees and if they were not wearing the school tie.
“What reason they have for locking us out?” questioned a Form Three female student, who denied that the school population had been told prior to the start of the school term that this measure would be introduced to deal with late-comers. A student from Form Four who claimed he was missing exams said, “I am coming to school to learn and although I reach a little after the bell rings at 7.50 am, I am being locked out and no-one wants to hear why I am late. I normally get trouble to get transport to come to school although I leave home at 6 am.”
While some of the students yesterday said they were unable to return home after being locked out due to differing reasons, some of the Form Five students said they were in the midst of preparing their School-Based Assessments (SBAs) and they would stay back to talk with the students in their class to see what they had missed during the day.
When Newsday asked to speak with the principal yesterday, the MTS security guards said she was on vacation and the vice-principal was “too busy.”
After witnessing several students exiting the school’s compound with bulging garbage bags, Newsday was informed that the students were sometimes forced to put out the garbage as part of their “punishment for getting into trouble in school.”
Officials at the Ministry of Education first learned of the situation when Newsday contacted them for a comment. Shortly after, the ministry gave instructions for school officials to allow the students in.
Although several attempts to contact Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh yesterday for a comment were unsuccessful, ministry officials assured an investigation had been launched into the matter.
General secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA), Peter Wilson and president of the National Parent Teacher Association Zena Ramatali both disagreed with the principal’s instruction to lock out students.
“As a general principle, no student should be barred from entering a school unless there is a serious disciplinary matter being investigated,” Wilson said, adding TTUTA will also launch its own investigation into the incident.
Ramatali said an urgent meeting should be called so the principal and parents “can decide on a form of discipline” for students who arrive to school late.
President of the Secondary Schools Principals’ Association Denise Hernandez promised the matter would be raised at the association’s executive meeting today, but until this was done — she would not be able to comment on the matter.