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Apr 9, 2003

Belmopan high in chaos: teachers, students complain

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In the not-too-distant past, it enjoyed a reputation as one of the nation’s premier high schools. Today, Belmopan Comprehensive is embroiled in a controversy that has students, teachers and administrators locked in combat, both verbal and physical. News 5′s Jacqueline Woods is just back from Belmopan with the following report.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

It was suppose to have been a regular day at Belmopan Comprehensive High School, but the atmosphere remains tense and both students and staff at the two B.C.S. campuses are uncertain about their future.

The strained relationship between teachers and students has been the result of a number of troubling incidents occurring primarily at the B.C.S. campus near U.B. This site was created by the need for additional buildings to accommodate the approximately four hundred students who attended classes on the second shift.

Jacklyn Burns, Teacher, B.C.S., U.B. Campus

“Some of the problems included that the students came out at seven-twenty and some of them needed to catch a bus. By the time they got out to the bus, you know buses will be travelling pack because they’re the late buses. And so these students had problems getting home, some of them lingered around the bus terminal areas until very late and used this as an excuse. So we try to get a system where the students would come to school earlier and therefore be dismissed earlier.”

As a result, an extension to B.C.S. was established on the University of Belize campus. The second shift students started attending classes in October of 2002 and are managed by a vice principal and twenty-three teachers. However, six months later, things have been far from normal at the school.

Student #1

“It’s been very rough because the students, they are very disrespectful and because some of the teachers are young and they think that they are not good enough for teaching and they just disrespect them.”

Student #2

“For example, telling the teachers negative things, using obscene language.”

Student #3

“The teachers look for it because they giggle with the students too much too. They like laugh up and they use the obscene language in front ah them. Sometimes they even offend them, hurt them in different ways weh they noh might know.”

Jacqueline Woods

“But should that give students the right to be disrespectful to teachers?”

Student #3

“No, it noh give them the right.”

Student #4

If the teachers respect the students, the students will in turn respect the teachers. If the teachers disrespect the student, the student will in turn disrespect the teachers, so it goes like a fifty-fifty way.”

Student #5

“This dah wah two way thing miss, if the teacher noh respect you miss, we noh wah give the teachers no disrespect, because we want we respect the same way how they deserve their respect, we deserve our respect from all ah them.”

Jacqueline Woods

“So you’re saying that the teachers are at fault here?”

Student #6

“The thing is that we want them to deal with it in a whole situation that they deal with the teachers, as well as the students, not only the teachers. Not only the students should be disciplined.”

Today when we visited the school we could hear students banging on the walls of their classrooms and freely cursing. Jacklyn Burns who has been teaching at B.C.S. for two years says there has been a disciplinary problem, but the situation has reached the point where teachers have been assaulted. Burns says they do not only have a problem with the students, but two weeks ago she says a parent physically attacked her.

Jacklyn Burns

“A parent came on campus and the parent assaulted me based on a rumour that she heard when her daughter called her at home. And this parent did not ask any questions, she just came and pushed me twice in my face.”

One week later the violence escalated after another teacher, Darwin Woodye was jumped and beaten by a total of eight students. Last Friday Woodye says he had disciplined Laurencio Ho who was on a work suspension, and later that afternoon, Ho and the other students attacked him.

Darwin Woodye, Teacher, B.C.S., U.B. Campus

“He came with a fist, punched me in the face, then the others jumped on me. But my fellow co-workers started to hib them off of ah me.”

Following that attack, the teachers claimed that one of the students, Karina Roches, then went over to the security booth to grab a machete. But what triggered the attack that caused all eight students to be suspended from school? Woodye claims he was beaten because he simply disciplined Ho after he allegedly spread false rumours about him. But some students claim it was Woodye’s fault and that the students should not have been suspended.

Darwin Woodye

“I was just talking to him and I told him to bring his parents to query what he was saying.”

Student #7

“Well Mr. Woodye had no right to tell Laurencio that his mother is giving away her body to let him come to school. That is no part of Mr. Woodye’s business, even if she doing that.”

Jacqueline Woods

“But how you know that that’s what Mr. Woodye told the student?”

Student #7

“Because I was right there and was drinking as well, because he was talking to me.”

Darwin Woodye

“That didn’t happen that way. I told him to bring in his mother, his parents on a whole, to clarify what he was saying. Basically, that’s how his parents get into this situation.”

Jacqueline Woods

“The student is also alleging that you appeared to have been under the influence, that you were drinking at the time you were reprimanding or disrespecting the student.”

Darwin Woodye

“No, not at all.”

The eight students all have received numerous demerits for various school offences. The teachers say that they have recommended on three occasions that one of the students, considered to be the ringleader, be expelled but no action was taken.

Jorge Varela, Vice Principal, B.C.S., U.B. Campus

“She has five, fifteen, twenty, and that’s because we stop counting, twenty-five, a little less than twenty-five offences. Which meant going to her fifth suspension. And here at school we have certain regulations that you can only be suspended twice per term. However, we send our recommendations as discipline and then higher administration will just say, you know what, you are instructed to accept back the students.”

The teachers believe the problem has gotten worse because the school’s administration has consistently failed to address the matter.

Jacklyn Burns

“Majority of the times when we meet with administration, there are so many other matters concerned with when we are dealing with the running of the school, and we meet as a general staff meaning both campuses meet, and so we don’t get an opportunity to address the issues that are affecting us.”

Jorge Varela

“There are many other factors where we have a lot of inference from higher administration. Belmopan is the capital, the ministry is very close to us, so parents, the students or whatever kind of problems that occur at Compreh, they go right there and this is where the breakdown.”

The teachers say they want the disruptive students be expelled, and if nothing is done then they will go on strike. That prompted a representative from the Ministry of Education to meet with the teachers from both campuses on Tuesday evening. But instead of discussing the issue the teachers claim their jobs were threatened.

Jorge Varela

“He went there to more advised us, but then in his advice he stated that if we decide to strike in this case, because all teachers are putting a firm stand to this, and if we decide to stand and strike, we would be facing consequences, which meant that we would probably lose our jobs.”

“We wanted a resolution to the situation here, we were there to demand for an expulsion for all these eight students involved, because as teachers we are at the frontline, we are the ones that are here to teach, here to guide, here to be parents, we are the ones that are facing are the problems with these troublesome kids that we have in file.”

Today, B.C.S. teachers went on a go-slow and say they will continue to work at their own leisure until the matter is properly addressed. The Ministry of Education says they have launched an investigation into the problems at the school.

Jacqueline Woods

“Since last Friday the police has been assisting the school with security. However, the sixty teachers at Belmopan Comprehensive High School say they are not taking the matter lightly and have threatened to go on strike if the eight students on suspension are allowed to return to school. Reporting from Belmopan, I am Jacqueline Woods.”

The eight students who have been suspended are Karina Roches, Michael Rosado, Amir Popper, Edilberto Madrid, Brandon Gongora, Grace Williams, Laurencio Ho and Fredrick Banner, all residents of Roaring Creek.

This evening, Chief Education Officer, Maude Hyde and ministry C.E.O. Marian McNab, met with the B.C.S. staff and board representatives. According to a Ministry of Education release, the school board will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to investigate the situation and make a final determination on the suspension or expulsion of the students, as well as consider disciplinary action against the teacher in question.

A spokesman for the teachers tonight told News 5 that they have decided to suspend their go-slow until the ministry has concluded its investigation. However, the teachers maintain that if the students are not expelled, they will go on strike.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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