On January 8, your students engaged in a protest against a change of Principal, during which, it was reported, some children were “roughed up” and “verbally abused”. However, your children tell a more worrying story: A man arrived during the protest, accompanied by two others. After a heated conversation with some teachers, he began screaming at the students to disperse. He allegedly made threats of violence, slapped a student, took photographs of some others, and even punched your private eye. Faced with continued defiance, he allegedly shoved a student, before launching into an expletive-filled tirade against them.
If reports on the incident are anything to go by, an official from the school management stated on the same day that no child was assaulted. This statement did not follow any investigation, you will note. Your students, on the other hand, have coherent and detailed narratives of the profanity and physical abuse they suffered. They would be expelled, and would have to go begging to him for their seats, they were told. Worse still, they would be barred from their board examinations. He allegedly even threatened to shoot every single one of them if they didn’t “get the f*** out” of there. I want to believe this did not happen, but I cannot fathom why the students would fabricate such accounts either.
Ten days have passed. You have the resources to clarify what exactly happened, and at whose hands. If you are reluctant to act on the word of several children, surely CCTV footage presents a credible basis for action. Yet, no investigation is forthcoming.
Let us assume in your favour that you needed time. Your silence, however, speaks volumes. You, as the school administration, cannot deny the events without conducting an investigation. I, as a lawyer, know all too well the importance of the presumption of innocence. But in absence of even a statement on your proposed course of action, one can only presume that your students were “roughed up” and “verbally abused”. Through your silence, you appear to implicitly condone a brazen display of power by someone in the management, and his terrorising threats of murder and violence. Worse, you appear to be acquiescing in a powerful man’s diktat that students will have to pay with their academic prospects for daring to stand up to his authority. Your silence then is your complicity.
I can see why you, as the school administration, chose silence. You are arguably constrained, because you cannot take on those in power above you. But is it not patently obvious that your students are even more constrained? Speaking out could potentially cost them their seats at your prestigious 150-year-old institution.
A parent, naturally, would want anything but a battle with a school that can, at the first sign of strife, turn so lawless that figures in authority threaten to shoot their children with impunity.
Only 10 days later, the furore has been long dead and life has gone on. Was there anyone who tried to hear the children, instead of reprimand them for their behaviour?
Was there someone who talked to them about what had just happened, before talking at them for impeding the Principal’s arrival? And what of the child who was allegedly slapped? Was there a counsellor, or a sexual harassment committee? Are you comfortable rendering your children so thoroughly voiceless? Have they been mollified, or are they terrified? Of course, as a girls’ school, some sensitivity to the rights of women would have been welcome.
While the country screams itself hoarse with outrage against ‘rape culture’, you choose to smother the voices of young women against a gendered display of power.
Are you teaching your girls, the women of tomorrow, to swallow their experiences of violence and harassment so as not to jeopardise their academic prospects?
Come what may, no child should ever have to hear that someone significant and powerful in her school contemplates her murder. And this is the only reason I write.
I am not concerned with the change in administration; I do not have a view on who ought to be the Principal.
I am only concerned with how you treat our children when in school.
School ought to remain every child’s sanctuary.
Whatever may be the internal political upheavals in the management, institutions retain continuity. And the institution that is Bishop Cotton Girls’ School ought to have a stance on the alleged incidents of that day.
If these events happened as we hear them from your children, you ought to condemn such violence and violations. A fair investigation must follow; action must be taken.
Violence and criminal intimidation are bad enough. Let’s not add impunity to the unholy mix of (y)our issues.