Mae’s Secondary School, children’s rights and the silence of a nation

May 10, 2009 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Freddie Kissoon 

I became a media functionary in 1988, and have investigated countless complaints and stories. The one you are about to read has left me both sad and extremely upset. On Wednesday, the daughter of a prominent chartered accountant in the city was immediately expelled from Mae’s Secondary School on being found with a cell phone. Both parents came to me after Parliamentarian Clarissa Riehl failed to get Mae’s to reverse the situation. They probably felt the press should become involved. I hope the press does. The mother was extremely depressed. She also indicated that her daughter was not eating. I though this was indeed a matter for the media.

Mrs. Riehl was told by Mr. Disney Chichester that Rule 21 of the school was broken and expulsion was the consequence and there cannot be a reversal. I spoke to Mr. Chichester on Thursday morning. Mr. Chichester’s position is that he would like what I have to say to be conveyed to his confidential secretary then based on what is reported, he would communicate with me. These were his exact words; “Why do you think I have a confidential secretary, Mr. Kissoon?”
I tried Mrs. French, the owner of the school. I sat in my office at UG and called the school every five minutes only to be told that Mrs. French is yet to arrive.

The parents told me that at 11.00 hours, they had an appointment with Mrs. French and Mr. Chichester. I drove to the school, parked outside and saw the parents enter the school. While they were in discussion with Mrs. French, I called Mrs. De Santos, the Administrative Officer, to speak to Mrs. French.
She told me Mrs. French is yet to arrive. I called the mother of the child and she informed me that she and her husband are in discussion with Mrs. French on the expulsion order. Mrs. French’s position is that the rule cannot be bent. Mrs. De Santos indicated to me that she would not like to discuss the issue.

I moved next to the Chief Education Officer (ag). She asked not to be quoted on her position on the expulsion but was kind enough to give me the regulations by the Ministry governing all schools, public and private, in Guyana. She said to me that on reading the booklet I will see that the child cannot be expelled for possession of a cell phone.

Let me quote from the publication. Under the section, “The Right of the School to Maintain Order and Discipline,” this is what is stated: “No school has the authority to expel any learner; it may recommend expulsion for consideration by (sic) the Chief Education Officer. The school, however, may suspend a learner based on the guidelines herein.”

The Ministry’s booklet lists possession of a cell phone as infraction Number 22 and comes under Category One. Children can only be expelled for offences that fall within Category 2. I contacted four private schools on Offence Number 22. The schools were School of the Nations, Marian Academy, The New Guyana School, and ISA Islamic School. All four told me that they conform to the Ministry of Education’s guidelines on punishment for possession of cell phones. But School of the Nations was the exception.
In all those institutions, the phone is confiscated and returned only after the term is over. School of the Nations allows cell phones but they are confiscated only if they are used in the building during school hours.

Minister Shaik Baksh said there is nothing he can do because Mae’s comes within the realm of a private business. He then told the accountant that he will talk to Mr. French on an informal basis. The husband rejected that option.
Late Friday afternoon, the child was admitted to a private school. Minister Baksh’s position is that her performance after Common Entrance cannot be taken into consideration for entry into a public school. He said he will have to use her Common Entrance score. I found that highly unacceptable. Surely, her grades at Mae’s could not be ignored.

The entire Friday, I tried to get Mrs. French on the issue involving Parliamentarian Deborah Backer’s complaint about the school charging interest for late advance payment. At around 16.00hours, I made contact and was offered the following explanation. Fees have to be paid one month before the term begins. A penalty of 10 percent is levied for late payment, beginning one day after the deadline.
I asked why that is so. The response was that it is the rule of the school. I contacted the other four private schools mentioned above; they say they have no such policy. I’m not finished with this expulsion.

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