The Rose Hill RC Primary School in Laventille will remain closed for the rest of the week following the latest shooting incident between warring gangs on Monday, in which gunfire was heard echoing through the hills of Laventille.
And following preliminary approval by the Ministry of Education (MoE) on Wednesday, the staff and pupils are to be temporarily relocated to the St Dominic’s Children’s Home in Belmont.
Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) CEO Sharon Mangroo confirmed a building on the compound has been designated for use and they are hoping to have the pupils back in school by Monday.
However, she warned: “While we are aiming for Monday, the reality may be different, as the limiting factors are transport for students and for the furniture etc. The former may take a while to arrange, as there are costs to be approved.”
Appealing for help yesterday, she said, “It is not safe. No teacher wants to go to the school. They are too traumatised. We will need police presence on the day that the move takes place.”
She added, “The teachers are bravely trying to continue online schooling but attendance is less than 50 per cent.”
Rapid bursts of gunfire from warring gangs in Laventille, Morvant and east Port-of-Spain have been referred to as a norm for those attending the school, which is located at the corner of La Coulee and Schuller Streets, Laventille.
In a bid to keep their charges safe, the almost daily occurrence has forced teachers to introduce a “drill” for pupils, which sees them crawling under desks and covering their heads, eyes and ears.
A two-minute video on Monday’s incident recorded by a school official and posted to social media, reveals a scared teacher whispering to her terrified pupils, “Ssshhh … ssshhh … be quiet, be quiet children. Down, down. Ssshhh…”
As gunshots are heard in the distance, the teacher continued to urge those lying under tables to, “Ssshhh…be quiet children, the other side is answering back. Ssshhh…”
Moving around the classroom to check on the pupils, the teacher is heard begging, “Oh gosh, down children, get down. Ssshhh.”
As the gunshots sound closer, she exclaimed, “Oh my God, oh my God…ssshhh… ssshhh…Oh my God children, down down down. Ssshhh…ssshhh. Children, just be quiet … just be quiet.”
While some parents have already withdrawn their children from the school and enrolled them elsewhere, officials yesterday said, “There are some that just cannot afford to.”
Residents locked in
When Guardian Media visited the school on Wednesday, the building remained closed, with just the security guards present.
Even the surrounding streets remained deserted, while nearby homes remained tightly locked and windows barely cracked. The only sign that persons were inside was the running water in the drains and air-conditioning units that continued to come on and off.
A bullet hole from Monday’s shooting was clearly visible in the sign posted outside the school’s guard booth, which read, “When you enter this loving school, consider yourself one of the special members of an extraordinary family.”
A school official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “Parents are distraught. We want some kind of police presence here. Long ago, officers used to come when school began and do patrols during the day, and come back in time for school to over. We felt safer then. I not saying people can’t get shoot still, but at least the kids and teachers didn’t feel so scared.”
Asked about Monday’s shooting, the official said, “That’s a regular thing up here. The children know the drill when gunshots start, from the top floor to the bottom, everybody hadda get low.”
Prior to Monday’s shooting, discussions had been held with the principal and a delegation from the school, including one parent, for the temporary relocation of staff and pupils.
This recommendation, Mangroo said, was proposed to remain in effect, “until the Ministry of National Security can, on a sustainable basis, assure the safety of not only Rose Hill staff and students, but ALL of the schools in the Morvant/Laventille area.”
Commenting on the video, she admitted it provided a “graphic description of the trauma inflicted on students and staff at this school.”
Pointing to other schools nearby that have also had to marshal their pupils into safe areas when gunfire is heard, Mangroo said, “Tragically, some primary school students can identify the gun from which the ammunition is issued by the sound of the gunfire.”
Mangroo said the CEBM will require the assistance of the Ministry of Education in providing daily transportation for the pupils to and from the new location.
President of the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Martin Lum Kin said while measures are initiated in the short term, it is a situational issue that must be dealt with, as there are other schools in hot spot areas that are experiencing similar type issues.
He said, “Very soon, we will be meeting with our teachers to hear their concerns.”
Lum Kin added, “There needs to be an effort to deal with this long term.”
Indicating that a return to online schooling might be one option that needs to be considered again at this time, the TTUTA head said, “Our teachers are not adverse to any methodology in the short term, to deal with the teaching and learning loss.”
Archbishop Jason Gordon also commented on the situation on Tuesday, as he said the many changes in National Security Ministers and Police Commissioners had had little impact on crime.
He also said, “Just yesterday (Monday), the children of Rose Hill had to duck under their benches and their tables as gunfire had happened for a minute-and-a-half outside, traumatising an entire school.”
Commenting on Monday’s incident, which she described as “most unfortunate,” on Wednesday, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly advised, “For the rest of this week, teachers will utilise virtual platforms for teaching.”
Revealing that virtual counselling sessions hosted by the Student Support Services Division had begun yesterday with pupils, school personnel and parents, the minister added, “I have spoken to the Commissioner of Police about the situation, as it is not only this school which has this type of issue affecting students, teachers and school operations.
“The commissioner is currently having internal discussions and will revert today (yesterday) with the TTPS’s recommendations for ensuring the safety of all school personnel during school hours; not for this school only, but for a few others which are similarly affected.”
She said school relocation has been suggested as a solution and that “option is also being evaluated, though no final decision on relocation has been made at this time.”
“The MoE’s focus remains, especially during the rest of this week, on meeting the emotional needs of the staff and students who underwent this traumatic experience,” Gadsby-Dolly said.