Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Editorial | Cynicism versus principle at Calabar

Published:Sunday | March 24, 2019 | 12:27 AM

The Rev Karl Johnson, chairman of Calabar High School, has, it seems, a flawed interpretation of how the principles of privacy should be applied at his school. Matters relating to Calabar should be internal.

He also, it appears, shares the populist’s use of the persecution complex as a tool for bonding the faithful and rallying them to extraordinary feats. The controversy over a teacher’s complaints of the school’s (mis)handling of complaints against student athletes is a case in point.

“What I can tell you is that I would be very surprised if this does anything but provide greater motivation (to the school’s athletic team at this year’s Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships),” Rev Johnson told this newspaper. As if that is, or ought to be, the point.

Calabar is one of Jamaica’s leading high schools, founded by the Baptist church, of whose Jamaican denomination Rev Johnson is the general secretary.

Similar to most Jamaican high schools, Calabar takes sports, especially track and field and football, very seriously. Champs is at the top of the scale. It is also a notorious fact that in Jamaica, talented schoolboy athletes tend to enjoy privilege, often accommodated when their academic performance is below par and their discipline, suspect.

We make no claim about the veracity of the claims of this matter. Neither do we adjudicate on them. But it is about that presumption of privilege, and one Calabar teacher’s sense of the impunity it breeds, and his belief that the school’s administration has elevated sports over discipline and natural justice, that are at the core of the issue, about which Rev Johnson doesn’t believe the public is entitled to his explanation.

“We don’t normally discuss internal matters with the public,” he said, except that while the Calabar plant is owned by the Baptist church, the operation of the institution is paid for by Jamaica’s taxpayers. They have every right to know about how it is functioning, including when it is affected by violence, which may lead to, or have become, criminal complaints. The school’s governors, therefore, have not only a responsibility, but an obligation, to be transparent.

In the issue, a physics teacher complained that in mid-December, more than three months ago, he was assaulted and injured by student athletes. His mobile phone was deliberately smashed. Video footage of the incident, or parts thereof, it is reported, exists.

By the teacher’s account, he called for the alleged attackers to be appropriately disciplined by, at minimum, suspensions. The school dithered.

It is claimed that one administrator advised the teacher that the athletes were “ambassadors of the school” and asked, rhetorically, if he wished for these “ambassadors” to be suspended.

After weeks of back-and-forth and letter-writing on the part of the teacher, the students were, a fortnight ago, suspended for a week.

But to the teacher’s mortification, during that period of suspension, at least one of the implicated students was on the school compound training with the track team. One of them represented Calabar in an athletic competition.

SELECTIVE PUNISHMENT

This newspaper is uneasy with bifurcated systems of punishment. Rather, punishments should be designed to be applicable to all students. He, or she, should not be denied participation in a specific activity if that punishment cannot be prescribed across the board.

At the same time, we are against a selective application of punishment to cynical ends. That is what people believe to have happened at Calabar.

We are not aware of the rules that govern suspensions at Calabar or what instructions were given to the suspended students. But we would expect it to be the norm that when students are suspended, they are barred from the school’s compound and from representing it in any activity.

These students, though, are perceived to be important to Calabar’s retention, for the eighth straight year, of the Boys’ Athletics Championship title next week. So they were allowed to train and perform to gain competition fitness.

This apparent cynicism is in stark contrast to the lack of leniency Calabar recently showed to a group of boys the school moved, but for a public outcry, to expel for poor academic performance. They weren’t great at sports.