TRINIDAD and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) on Wednesday slammed the Ministry of Education for what it described as a significant reduction in the number of security officers assigned to schools, which placed both the student and faculty body at risk.
In response, the Ministry replied that the reduction is really a re-alignment of resources as there were reductions in the amount of security personnel in one school but a bolster at others.
The Ministry also added that a new batch of 60 school safety officers will be added to the existing compliment and their training is expected to be done by next week.
Most schools in T&T, both primary and secondary, are manned by a cadre of approximately seven to eight officers during a normal school week, with a smaller detail on weekends and holidays.
This is done by State-owned Maintenance Training Services (MTS).
TTUTA president Davanand Sinanan said since Tuesday morning they had been receiving reports of a smaller number of officers assigned to several schools and this caused a lot of unease among staff members, given a recent upsurge in violence among pupils.
According to Sinanan, they also received reports that the Education Ministry may seek to hire another firm to bolster the depleted security strength at the schools.
“Why did they take this decision to go this route without even talking to stake-holders, because all schools that are manned by MTS personnel have been affected,” he said.
“We had concerns with MTS and their quality and we felt that there was lots of room for improvement, but you will pull the guards out and leave these schools at risk?
“I mean this is a new development but we have not been able to get answers and I mean we had a meeting last week Thursday and we met with the Permanent Secretary and no-one hinted that this would happen,” he added.
Sinanan said there were provisions that if a teacher at any school felt that their safety was at risk, they could leave “because our schools are no longer safe havens and this action leaves us to wonder what are their motives and they (the Ministry) need to explain what happened here”.
However, Ministry of Education communications officer Alicia Busby dismissed TTUTA’s fears.
“We made some adjustments and it is not as people are saying,” she said, although she admitted there were reductions of MTS personnel at some schools.
“But we may not need eight people on duty in the day, but at night we may need a few more officers since the area where the school is located may be considered high-risk in terms of theft and vandalism, so therefore there were areas that were reduced and there are areas in which there was an increase.”
Busby said there were issues with MTS, that sometimes the Ministry would have paid for eight officers on duty but only five would show up for work.
She said with the Ministry’s hiring of its own (school safety officers), who were trained in basic skills unique to the school environment, such as first aid and dispute resolution, “Our officers will have a much more engaged role with the school, so, for example, if a child falls ill or unconscious, our officers will be trained in basic first aid, dispute resolution and so on, so therefore we are trying to improve our services...namely a better-secured school, so rather than relying on outside support we are bolstering our own in-house capabilities.”