By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Christian Council president Bishop Delton Fernander has called for a “amicable solution” in the matter involving the beating of a seventh grade student by an administrator at St Augustine’s College last week.
This comes as police press liaison officer, Superintendent Shanta Knowles confirmed that preliminary investigations into the matter were continuing, with police having not made a decision on whether any charges will be brought. Supt Knowles said once a formal decision is made, the public would be notified.
On Sunday, she told this newspaper the official had been questioned by police and released last week.
Meanwhile Bishop Fernander, who described the school official as a friend and a “veteran educator admired and respected by his peers,” called for patience and understanding in the mediation process surrounding the matter. He said the BCC is willing to help mediate if needed.
Highlighting his own lengthy tenure as a school administrator in the Baptist system, Bishop Fernander said there needs to be a thorough discussion about the scope of punishment being handed out in schools and those appointed to carry it out.
Bishop Fernander contended that the necessary discussion needed over the issue is being overshadowed by competing narratives on whether students should be physically punished while in school.
He said the discussion should be centred around the merit of physical discipline and how it relates to the behaviour and actions that mandate it.
“As a society we know that certain infractions comes with some level of discipline. Therefore the conversation should be based around when physical punishment is used, by whom and to what end,” he said. “We can’t allow ourselves to get lost in the whole debate on what beating did for me, or to me, as a child.
“That’s not productive right now,” he said.
A photo shared by Ian Mills, the child’s father, attracted more than 400 comments, 144 likes, and 173 within hours of being posted to Facebook last Tuesday.
A caption posted alongside the photo of the boy’s bruised buttocks claimed the child was punished for “clowning and talking in class.”
Mr Fernander said of the problem: “I know [the SAC official] personally. He’s a veteran educator, not only known in the area of sports, but also in the area of school administration. Knowing him, I know there was no malice in his actions. I think that’s where the largest part of this discussion should come, because in most cases, if not all, administrators and teachers are acting from the standpoint of discipline.
“We hope we can mediate this situation if an apology is needed, we would look to that. The heart must be known in this situation, hurting a child is not in the intent of [the school official]. As a former school administrator myself, I have always been very firm in the way I discipline,” he added.
“As a country, we need to work towards that happy medium. It can’t be ‘beating was good for me and made me better’, versus ‘there should be no beating at all in school’. Like I’ve said, we can’t allow ourselves to get lost at that point. Certain infractions should come with some form of discipline. If not suspension, then what? There has to be something.
“There has to be consequences for actions… that’s the way it is in society and that is the way it must be relayed to our children as we bring them up. For every action in a derogatory or negative, there needs to be a reaction and some response to signal that that act cannot stand or be tolerated.”
The use of corporal punishment in public schools has been discouraged in recent years, with Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd stating that children should only be beaten in schools if all other options have been exhausted, and in the most egregious of circumstances.
Last week he, an alumnus of SAC, declined comment on this latest incident.
However, he reiterated the ministry’s position on corporal punishment, noting the public tension over whether the practice should be discontinued.
“There is a debate where those who feel that corporal punishment should be eliminated, there are those who believe that corporal punishment should remain as at least some possible sanction in the hand of a mother, teacher, or administrator. That debate obviously will continue, the government will have a final position sometime after proper vetting of the discussion with relevant stakeholders.
“However, there is a very clear rule in the government’s manual with regard to corporal punishment,” Mr Lloyd said, “it is administered as a last resort and it is only administered by an administrator in the presence of another administrator.
“So this issue of corporal punishment being willy-nilly applied is something that is not sanctioned by the government, and it is repudiated at every instance, anywhere that it occurs. Our children are not to be abused, that is not the intention, that is not going to be accepted and any incident of abuse whether its physical, moral, intellectual, or otherwise will be strictly met with the most vigorous of resistance by this minister and the ministry.”
Mr Lloyd made his comments although there has not been a clear resolution in the case of an Abaco physical education teacher who was captured on video beating six students in April.
He has since indicated that a formal investigation into the matter had been concluded, but little has been said publicly about the outcome of that investigation.
Early last month he said disciplinary action in the case was in the hands of the director of education, however it is unclear what has happened since then.
Meanwhile parents of the seventh grader met with school officials last week. SAC has declined comment.
The Bahamas Catholic Board of Education does not have any regulatory oversight of SAC as the school has its own private board.
Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder has also declined comment, referring to the active investigation of the incident.