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Curtailing disturbances of gunfire requires help from all segments of society

By Kaelanne Jordan

The Chief Education Officer (CEO) of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo believes that the solution to curtailing the increased disturbances of gunfire near the Rose Hill RC Primary requires “much bigger work” than the CEBM, the Ministry of Education (MoE) or the Ministry of National Security can do.

“It requires help from all the segments of society,” she told Catholic News on Thursday.

“The police have a slogan: ‘If you see something, say something’ and I think our community has to take back their community. And we have to work together to do that,” she said.

Mangroo confirmed that the MoE has not yet approved the proposed move to a space on St Dominic’s Home compound, Belmont.

“We are in discussion about it. It’s the Minister who makes the final decision about whether they will move,” she said.

Mangroo explained the move cannot be permanent.

“If you move a school out of the location in which it is, you doing damage to the village. You doing damage to the community in which the school is located. Also logistically, there is no where in the Port of Spain area to put a new school,” she said.

Moving the staff and students of Rose Hill RC into a new community, “cannot be a sustainable answer,” she asserted.

“… we just need to move them away from the scene of the trauma and give them a little chance to heal. And also, it will give the Ministry of National Security a chance that they can talk with the gang leaders in the area and they can restore some peace. Come to some sort of agreement,” Mangroo said.

According to Mangroo, in the past, gang members had respect for schools and teachers were treated with respect. “The whole concept of schooling was something they had respect for.”

She observed that young people have become victims of indiscriminate shootings.

She told Catholic News there was collaboration with the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) to have a police post at the school, most recently, during Archbishop Jason Gordon’s visit to the school in April 2022.

“And that provided a degree of safety for the students. But they were withdrawn. I think the principal said they didn’t have enough resources to continue,” Mangroo said.

She hoped that the interest in the safety of staff and pupils at Rose Hill RC “will be sustained” because “this is not just an isolated incident”.

“…yes, this happened at school, but these children live with this in their homes as well. Children hear gunfire when they are asleep. Some of these children sleep under their beds…. People can show you the bullet holes in their homes. People tell you about gunfights taking place outside their road near their

homes. So yes, …children at schools should be safe, but children at home should be safe as well,” Mangroo said.

She recalled that staff and pupils at both Bethlehem Boys’ and Girls’ RC and Diego Martin RC have experienced similar events and spoke of an incident where someone with a gun was found on a school compound by a cleaner.

At Diego Martin RC, students “are very much impacted.”

Mangroo referred to a student whose father was killed in his presence.

“The principal of that school also tells us of having to go out in the street and confront people who were getting ready to have a gunfight in the street in front of the school, and to tell them ‘not in front my school’.”

According to Mangroo, drills are essential in preparing a school for an emergency. However, not all schools would require a drill for “dropping and taking cover if there are gunshots.”

While the students are being engaged for trauma counselling, she underscored teachers too will be provided same. “Those teachers are very brave. The teachers are giving online classes as we speak. Because they are so concerned about the children missing school,” she said. However, not all students are online. “Yesterday [Wednesday], it was less than half of them came on,” she said.

Questioned as to why, Mangroo cited a combination of internet access, connectivity issues and “the biggest problem”, parental supervision.