Calls are being made by the Bishops’ High School Old Students’ Association [BHSOSA] for a Commission of Inquiry [COI] into the issue of sexual misconduct and abuse at the School. This move by the Association comes on the heels of allegations leveled against Economics teacher at the school [Mr. Coen Jackson] that he groomed and engaged in sexual relations with students under his instruction.
Jackson has denied these allegations which were detailed in a letter of complaint brought to the attention of the Ministry of Education by Cultural Policy Advisor within the Ministry of Social Cohesion, Mr. Ruel Johnson.
The matter has since been handed over to the police force. But according to a statement from the Association’s President, Ms. Emily Dodson, it is recommended that policies and protocols be put in place to ensure that such behaviour is eliminated, and students are encouraged to report such matters without fear of ridicule or repercussion.
Dodson, in her statement, revealed that “many students and teachers have complained that they have been subject to ridicule and abuse by members of the public as they commute to and from school.”
She emphasized, “BHSOSA hereby condemns such conduct and hopes that the Guyana Police Force and other relevant authorities take the relevant steps to protect all students and teachers from such negative behaviour.”
According to the Association’s President, The Bishops’ High School, being one of the leading co-educational institutions in Guyana, is known for its esteemed status throughout Guyana. The institution has encouraged its students to not only achieve academic success but to be exemplary and well-rounded students.
But according to Dodson, the recent events have put a negative spotlight on the school and have challenged all, especially the Association to find immediate solutions.
The Association, according to her, unequivocally condemns any act of sexual misconduct and abuse against students in and out of The Bishops’ High School. “We remind the current students and teachers of the school, especially during this time, that we are here for you and will do whatever is in our power to ensure that you are protected and your environment is safe. More so, to the victims, we reach out to you. We are truly sorry for the ordeals that you have experienced and suffered, and want you to know that we support you.
“What you experienced is unimaginable but we want to commend you for your strength and undying resilience,” Dodson’s statement added.
She pointed out that as a result of the actions taken, a cycle has been broken. “If you need any sort of help and support, please contact any member of the Executive Committee of BHSOSA.”
In light of recent events, the Association held an extraordinary general meeting on November 28, 2017 to map the way forward.
This meeting, which was well attended by alumni and Sixth Form students of the school, generated a number of solutions. Among these have been moves towards mentoring and counselling for psychological trauma which will be implemented with immediate effect and be available to both students and teachers. The school’s alumni has also committed to participating in committees to lead the charge.
In collaboration with the Childcare and Protection Agency, teaching staff will receive training in protocols for sexual abuse and abuse in general and thus enhance the capability of teachers to detect and report allegations and incidents of abuse and harassment.
Additionally, a recommendation will be made to employ child protection and related policies within the school.
Sessions coordinated and lead by alumni will be held to sensitise the male students of the school about sexual harassment, abuse, gender equality and ethics. Sessions are slated to commence as soon as next week.
Further, sensitisation sessions will be held to equip students with the necessary information on abuse and the process of reporting any act of abuse or victimisation. Added to this, an anonymous reporting system is currently being developed by alumni.
According to Dodson, the Association “acknowledges the unwavering support and patience of concerned persons during this very challenging period and implores the public to refrain from acts of aggression and hostility towards the students and teachers.
“Further, we are requesting that any protests should be held away from the school. This is to enable students to receive instructions in an environment that is conducive to learning.”
The allegations against Jackson and moves by head teacher of the school, Ms. Winifred Ellis, to lambaste female students of the school by calling ‘slack’ and ‘loose’ had attracted the ire of concerned citizens who had engaged protest action.
Dodson noted that while the Association is appreciative to the general public and interest groups for their concern with the safety and well-being of the students of the Bishops’ High School, it calls for continued support as “we seek justice for victims of abuse.”
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