Holness directs ministries to assess security risks at schools Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has declared that the issue of school violence has emerged as “a matter of grave concern”, particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen where there is a shift and change in the behaviour of our youth post-pandemic, and this a phenomenon not just in Jamaica but globally that we have to come to grips with,” declared Holness.

Given the increased incidents of violent confrontations at local schools, the prime minister said he has directed the Education and Youth Ministry, as well as the National Security Ministry, to reassess the security situation at educational institutions.

But immediately, all schools will be directed to review both their entry and search policies in order to stop weapons from passing undetected through the gates of the institutions.

Holness made the overall statements while speaking on Wednesday following a meeting with Custos of Manchester, Garfield Green, whose brainchild, the Manchester beliefs, values and attitudes (BVA) programme, Holness said “is an important initiative in assisting schools and communities to treat with this issue of violence, but particularly important to our schools.”

Green is pushing for the programme to be adopted nationally.

Over recent weeks, several incidents of school-based violence have resulted in students being killed or injured. The latest of such incidents occurred on Tuesday at the Catholic College of Mandeville in Williamsfield, Manchester.

In that incident, 20-year-old student, Akeilia White, was fatally stabbed and a male student stabbed and injured, allegedly by a 17-year-old male student who has since been charged with murder and wounding with intent.

Holness said the Education and Youth Ministry has well-established programmes, which he said are geared towards treating violence in schools and conflict resolution. He said the initiatives have been working right across the country generally.

“There are, however, some cases, in some schools, which we have assessed previously as being high-risk on the basis of the number of incidents that rise to level of harm, the level of bullying that exists in some of the schools, the location of the schools in proximity to gangs and areas that are in conflict,” Holness stated.

He said the Government has directed resources to those schools, but given that there is an “underline change in the behaviour of our youth”, he has directed the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Education and Youth to do a reassessment of the “security risks” of schools.

“So that way we can get a better understanding of which schools are at risk and how to direct resources to those schools,” added Holness.

The Government, according to Holness, has already started to increase the number of case managers who would be available for community and school intervention through the National Security Ministry.

Also, the number of school resource officers is to be increased.

“The school resource officer programme has been very effective, but from time to time, depending on the intensity of implementation, sometimes schools get resource officers and sometimes they don’t,” the prime minister pointed out.

“What we are going to seek to do now, after the conduct of this new assessment of the schools, is to increase the numbers and then redirect some of these officers to those schools with the highest risk,” said Holness.

In the short-term, he said discussions have been held with both ministries on the need for all schools to review their entry and search policies.

“They must now seek to put in place measures to detect and seize weapons in schools, particularly knives and other implements that can be used to cause damage,” Holness stated.

Both ministries will issue the directives to local schools shortly, he said.