Newsmaker: Questions linger over handling of schoolgirls’ kissing clip Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

This week’s featured overall development as Newsmaker of the Week is the removal of two schoolgirls from St James High School over a GIF video of the two sharing a brief kiss, which was posted on one of the girl’s WhatsApp status.

Despite the video being reportedly only two seconds long, the girl’s parents were reportedly told in January of this year by the school’s principal, Joseph Williams, that they were being booted from the institution over the act, as such incidents would not be tolerated at the school. 

The St James High School board is insisting that the girls were not expelled from the school, and has asked Williams to provide a report on why the girls are no longer at the institution. 

Williams, according to the board chairman, Christopher McCurdy, has not submitted that report to date.

But in the latest twist in the saga that has grabbed national attention, Williams, in a brief interview with a local media house on Friday, denied having expelled the students.

Williams did not elaborate, this despite the girls’ parents being adamant that he told them that their children no longer had a place at St James High School because of the incident. 

One of the girls – a 16-year-old – is now enrolled in a private institution, while the other girl who is reportedly 15 years old, remains out of school.

The personnel committee of the board of St James High School has been mandated to undertake an investigation into the circumstances under which the two schoolgirls were purportedly expelled from the institution in January. The mandate was given after the board met last Thursday to discuss the matter. The report is to be submitted on Thursday, May 2.

“We will convene another meeting to peruse that report. The committee will be looking at the entire action of the principal. We will be looking at what was done in terms of the Ministry (of Education and Youth), (and) the school’s actions towards the students,” McCurdy said in a radio interview on Friday. 

The Ministry of Education and Youth is also conducting its own probe into the incident. 

McCurdy said the board has not approved any expulsion of students since he took over the helm in 2022. 

He claimed that Williams acted on his own to dismiss the schoolgirls without due process being followed, but the principal is now insisting that he did not expel the teenagers.

Said McCurdy: “The regulation stipulates that expulsion is a matter for the board to decide, and, as the chairman of the board since 2022, I’ve not signed off on a single expulsion or suspension.

“We need to probably call it what it is, the principal would have sent home a child without due process, without consulting with the board, (and) without adhering to regulations of the Ministry of Education,” McCurdy claimed.

Other past board members at the St James-based school have made claims that Williams has been acting on his own to expel other students from the institution, and has taken other administrative decisions without the input of the board in the past.

Williams has not responded to such claims either. 

Meanwhile, McCurdy claimed that the board is “in dialogue” with the parents of both girls.

“We are doing everything that we can to ensure that they are taken care of in terms of their well-being. I have written to the regional office of the Ministry of Education just…, requesting that immediate intervention be carried out for both kids to ensure their mental health,” he said.

Efforts are underway to get the other girl into an institution to continue her education by this week.

McCurdy said the mother of that girl said her daughter has not been in school since she was removed from St James High School in January. 

The board chairman said although the girls were not expelled from the school, it appears that their parents are not interested in having them return to St James High.

Amid those developments, human rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), which is supporting the families of the expelled students, wants steps to be taken to get the one who has been at home since the expulsion to be immediately enrolled in an institution.

In a news release on Thursday, JFJ argued that if media reports on the incident are true, it finds no merit in the grounds that were used to sanction the students.

“What it raised was the need for ongoing age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education for students without shame and moral judgment.

“Secondly, the decision to bar the students from school, effectively expelling them, breached their right to education as well as the fundamental principles of due process as outlined in the Constitution of Jamaica,” said JFJ.

It added that the Education Regulations of 1980, which were effected pursuant to Section 43 of the Education Act, outlines the framework regarding how expulsion in schools are to be done.

“Reports that the principal’s decision was reportedly based on moral judgement rather than established guidelines is of grave concern and ought to be condemned. 

“By circumventing the board, despite the education regulations, there was no transparent consultative decision-making process, and the students were also denied their right to appeal any disciplinary actions imposed,” JFJ contended.

As investigations continue into the matter, social media users gave their views throughout last week on the incident that has generated mixed viewpoints. 

“Personally, I find that the  action of the school was unwarranted, severe, harsh and extreme,” a man wrote on Facebook. 

“Both girls should have been called in along with their parents and given a stern warning at most. It is unfair to just suspend (remove) them from school in this manner. Due course should have been followed. They have a right to an education like every other kid,” he shared.

Said another man: “There is no need for a deliberation. It is unacceptable that two young schoolgirls can be expelled from school for kissing. 

“You are over stepping and (over) reaching, and quite frankly, it speaks to weak leadership,” he added. 

A woman opined that, “Why wasn’t it recommended that the guidance counsellor offer support to the two girls? It is inappropriate, in my view, to expel students over such a silly thing, because teenagers do explore.”

In response to that remark, a woman said: “I’m not supporting lesbianism in no high school! I stand with the principal.” 

Added a male Facebook user: “Dem slowly a push di agenda in schools now enuh, but hold yuh position Mr principal!!!”

In the meantime, a woman said the Education and Youth Ministry needs to play a more active role in sanctioning principals who breach the regulations. 

“The Ministry of Education also needs to quickly implement broad-based operating policies and procedures across the educational system, and stop preventing individual schools from doing so,” she added.

Commented a man: “I honestly understood the principals stance in this matter, and I believe his decision to expel the girls is justified, but follow the guidelines outlined and go through the (school) board first.”