JTA head wants CCTV cameras, more cops in schools

NEGRIL, Westmoreland – Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in all schools, one police officer assigned to each institution, and secured compounds are among the list of long-term measures president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) Leighton Johnson wants to see implemented to protect the nation’s students.

Obviously unimpressed by the Government’s response to specific situations in the past, he said that proactive measures must be taken.

“Knee-jerk reactions must not be the propellants of school safety and security. I am certain that you all know what I am alluding to. And in this age of technology, we need cameras in all schools,” Johnson said.

He was apparently referencing the horrific death of eight-year-old Danielle Rowe, who died in June after she was abducted from school and her throat slashed. During a special devotion in the child’s memory, Minster of Education and Youth Fayval Williams announced that CCTV cameras would be installed at the entrances of primary schools.

Johnson wants all schools to benefit from the initiative.

He also wants more cops assigned to schools.

“We must expand the deployment of school resource officers in our schools. Not one officer to service three or four schools. One officer to a school,” he added.

He was speaking during the JTA’s 59th Annual Conference’s official opening and investiture ceremony at the Royalton Negril Resorts and Spa on Monday night.

Telling his audience that “many schools are open and vulnerable to outside invasion due to the lack of secure perimeter fences and walls”, the JTA president spoke of the toll that community fights have had on educational institutions.

“Many schools operate in violence-prone communities and, in many instances, community gangs have established cells within our schools. These students negatively influence the culture of discipline and threaten the harmony within our schools. Teachers and students know these individuals and they are genuinely afraid. Therefore, it must be an imperative of the ministry, through the [police force’s] safety and security unit, to improve the systems of our school security. It must be a priority to have every school secured with adequate perimeter fencing,” he argued.

He also spoke of the need to improve night-time security measures. Many schools employ watchmen, the cheaper alternative to security guards. Their role is not to engage criminals who may target the school compound but merely to alert the authorities.

“It is important to secure the school’s property during the night. The time has come for us to rethink the approach to the watching services available to our schools. Our current realities demand that all schools need trained security guards to assist in monitoring the operations at the entry and exit points during school hours,” said Johnson.

Turning his attention to the safety of students as they commute, the JTA head called for the expansion of the rural bus programme that now caters to beneficiaries of PATH.

“For the most part, students who travel on these buses are transported to and from school in a more secure manner. However, the majority of our students depend on the public transportation system to come in on a daily basis. Many of the disciplinary issues that our teachers encounter in our schools stem from how our students commute to school on a daily basis,” he said.

“There is the urgent need for the establishment and expansion of the rural bus programme that will transport our students to and from school. This system can work,” he said, adding that there had been a pilot done in several areas, including Manchester.

Recently, Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz suggested that a safe, secure, efficient transport system for rural students can be operated by publicly owned buses or as a franchise system, with highly trained drivers and conductors. He said these card payment-based school buses would be outfitted with cameras and tracking devices.