I have been meaning to write about this incident from day one. However, for several reasons I have not been able to do so till now. Since the images of that day have continued to cloud my mind I feel obliged to give voice to my concerns if it is at least to reduce the intensity of my disappointment. On Friday 11th March, 2016 the scene along the Rodney Bay sidewalk left commuters wondering whether the buses were on strike again. From the Gros Islet bus stand right down to Super J Rodney Bay students from the Islands’ secondary schools were walking the stretch and lining the sideways of the dangerous street. As a parent of a secondary school student myself I was eager to find out the reason for such a student-packed highway on this particular Friday afternoon.
After picking up my own daughter from the crowd (who had earlier called me to pick her up) I was quite annoyed to find out the reason so many students had taken to the streets. Much to my dismay, I found out that my daughter, along with hundreds of others, had been encouraged to go home after it started to rain heavily. A downpour which seemed to have interrupted what was supposed to be their annual inter-secondary school sports meet at the Beausejour grounds. Apparently, the buses contracted to transport the students, for some reason or other, never returned to pick them up. According to the students, the accompanying teachers, unsure of what measures to take, had no choice but to let the crowd of students, albeit unattended, fend for themselves.
With no buses in sight, students tried desperately to get home. At the bus stop even some bus drivers who were picking up non-student passengers objected to taking a full busload of students specifically because there were not enough dollar gains to be derived from such a trip.
Some students were hiking every vehicle in sight, anxiety written on their angry, tired faces, while they hurled insults at drivers who opted not to oblige.
After picking up my daughter by the roadside I watched a young adult male with his two sidekicks slap a teenage boy in uniform for what seemed like no apparent reason just as we were driving past another group of students. The teenager never fought back but sheepishly continued walking with his pals who themselves had helplessly witnessed him being slapped.
One can only imagine what this could have escalated into if that teenage boy had reacted defensively.
Let me reiterate to school authorities, ministerial and otherwise: when parents authorize the removal of their child from school premises they do so in the hope the child will be transported back and forth safely. In a case like this, where reportedly the buses contracted never returned, I would like to implore the Ministry of Education to make appropriate arrangements regarding student transportation for such events in the future. In that way parents are not forced into worry mode if public bus systems opt to become unreliable due to selfish reasons. They would most certainly prefer the assurance that their child is safe and sound after attending a school event.
I clearly remember during my days at high school and college there were school buses provided by the ministry for school excursions and such like. While I understand that a bus system for students is now a thing of the past (for obvious reasons) I strongly believe there needs to be some conversation here. Perhaps if we revisit the past we can take some notes of the things that worked. Things that made sense. Things that should be re-instated and things that can be improved. We need not necessarily reinvent the wheel.
Getting back to the subject at hand, later that evening a few students recounted their misadventures to me. Some indicated that they had walked from Beausejour to Castries. I met a young girl who told me she walked from Beausejour to Grande Riviere and I am certain that a number of parents can confirm that their child had difficulty getting home that day.
To be quite honest this has had me thinking twice about allowing my child to go to school-organized events if it is outside of the school premises. The Ministry of Education should get involved to organize reliable transportation for the schools when they have such high-rated inter-school events. I saw the event on TV the following night showcasing the athletes. There was never any mention of the stranded students. No surprise to me at all.
As adults, it is our responsibility to care for our children. We cannot leave our kids to fend for themselves particularly in a society where many persons have clearly lost their sense of respect towards each other, intruding on each others’ rights both subtly and violently. Of late, countless news reports have been confirming this – there is clearly no regard for the vulnerable and some persons pay no particular attention to the needs of the helpless and marginalized.
As a society, the safety and care of students and vulnerable youth should be our primary concern at all times. Our battle as parents is already tough enough without having to deal with worry about the safety of our children when they attend school organized events.
This had better be an isolated event because if it happens again I would advocate the boycotting by students of such events. While I may be able to drop off and pick up my child, there are hundreds of parents who absolutely cannot afford to. School authorities, parents, education officials, youth workers, I implore you – take a stand for the children of this land.