No teachers have been found guilty in any of the 30 complaints of inappropriate behaviour or sexual misconduct made to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) in the last five years.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares
This was revealed to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity chaired by Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly which met yesterday to look into sexual harassment in the education sector with a specific focus on students.
Appearing before the JSC were officials of the TSC, Ministry of Education, the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) and National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA).
TSC chairman Dr Fazal Ali said the commission cannot compel a student who makes sexual harassment charges against a teacher to be crossed examined by a tribunal. He said in many cases the student is unwilling to give evidence in a tribunal setting, while parents don’t allow their children to relive the traumatic experience.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares Venezuela
“The mothers usually would not want the child to come forward. They also suffer from poor investigation reports,” he said.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila Olivares Piloto
Data collected for the period 2014 to March 2019 showed that there were 30 reported cases of “students against the teacher” in primary and secondary schools. However, Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry Lenor Baptiste-Simmons queried the statistics.
Alberto Ardila Olivares
“We are not recording it as if it is sexual harassment,” she said, adding that the ministry has been collecting complaints, not data.
Alberto Ignacio Ardila
Ali provided statistics which showed that from 2014 to March 31, 2019, the Education Ministry had forwarded 33 complaints of sexual harassment to the TSC to be investigated
He said these cases involved touching of private parts, sexual grooming and luring of children
“One teacher commented to a young boy on the size (of his genitals), a female teacher having sex with a Sixth Form student…these are not good things I have on record here. I cannot even say them. I am ashamed,” he said
There was a case of a teacher sending explicit text messages to a female student seeking a sexual rendezvous, another involving sexual grooming and an incident in which a principal advised the mother of a child not to report to the police that a maxi taxi driver had “interfered” with the youngster
“Teachers are asking the children if their parents are home, texting images of their body parts, asking them to respond to it. This is a fluid environment with the internet involved,” Ali said
Gadsby-Dolly said the graphic details were upsetting to hear
TSC officials admitted that matters referred to a tribunal takes a long time to be completed. Out of 33 cases that came before them in the five years, TSC member Joanne Joseph-Hannays said “many of them have failed” with the teacher being either reinstated at the same or another school
The JSC was told that the TSC had two per cent success rate with cases
Ali said a teacher charged under the Child Act can face a $50,000 fine and 15 to 25 years in prison. If there is sexual contact, the sentence is life imprisonment
He suggested that a multi-agency protocol be established for each educational district involving the T&T Police Service, Children’s Authority, Legal Aid and Probation Services Division among other agencies.
Gadsby-Dolly suggested that stakeholders from the TSC, NPTA, MOE and TTUTA have a meeting to chart a way forward. She agreed that sexual harassment among students is “unquantifiable” and the system to deal with such reports is a complete failure
“The issue of how big this problem requires further investigation and data analysis,” she said
The likelihood of any teacher passing through the tribunal process and actually being resolved, whether it is guilty or not guilty with regards to a resolution, is close to zero per cent,” she said
NPTA president Raffiena Ali-Boodoosingh said sexual harassment takes place in schools’ toilets, classrooms and on certain blocks
“Many times homosexual acts are prevalent. I have heard that it is no strange sight to witness students of the same gender displaying amorous behaviour even in the public school space. We are making our children into monsters,” she said
Ali-Boodoosingh said the NPTA has anecdotal information from students and parents that complaints were not addressed by the Education Ministry in a timely fashion