JAMAICA – Thwaites apologizes for ‘leggo beasts’ comment
KINGSTON –– Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites yesterday withdrew his comment about “leggo beasts” students in the public school system in response to the objections raised by the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and public sentiment.
Thwaites, who had previously refused to withdraw the statement, said in a statement issued to the Press yesterday: “On reflection, and having listened to all the comments, I would like, even at this late stage, to withdraw my use of the term ‘leggo beast’ to describe uncontrollable children spoken at last week’s Jamaica Teachers’ Association conference.
“The serious issue facing the society of weak parenting and inadequate community support to socialize so many schoolchildren is likely to be overlooked by controversy over the appropriations of a phrase I used. I regret speaking in the manner I did.
“Despite the difficulties, teachers must not label students, and schools must take on special responsibility to make a positive difference in the lives of all our children.
“I have communicated with Senator Johnson-Smith to appreciate her insistence for this matter to be corrected. I trust we can all combine our efforts to curb the serious problems of indiscipline facing our teachers and students and cramping the outcome of an education system.”
Speaking at last week’s annual conference of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association in St James, Thwaites stated that parents must not send their ‘leggo beast’ children to school and expect teachers to provide behaviour modification.
He also stated that it was time for Jamaican teachers to aspire to the highest standards of professionalism, and insulate themselves from the falling standards “which have infiltrated so many parts of the Jamaican society”.
The statement triggered objections from both the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness and the opposition’s spokesperson on education and youth Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith.
Senator Johnson-Smith said that labelling troubled children as “leggo beasts” would not contribute to the need for a collaborative and transformational approach to the building
of a good education system.
“It speaks to a further condemnation of children with antisocial behaviour from difficult circumstances, to being ostracised, and adds
to the cycle of negative behaviour and experiences they suffer,” she said, as she urged the minister to withdraw the comment.
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness, a former minister of education, joined the call on Saturday when he told a Press briefing which followed a caucus of JLP candidate/caretakers at the party’s headquarters, that the reference to students as “leggo beasts” was reprehensible and should be withdrawn.
“It is a dangerous thing for a minister of education to say that children who are not under parental supervision and guidance should not be sent to school,” Holness said.
Holness described Thwaites comments as indicative of a “discriminatory and non-inclusive policy on access to education”.
He said that when the JLP administration had been confronted with “an almost epidemic of behavioural problems”, oft-times leading to violence and death in schools, it had put in place policies and programmes that empowered the schools to respond.
“We supported and educated the parents, and we mobilized the nation to address the policy. At no time did we ever signal that children were to be excluded from schools because of their behaviour, or because of neglect of their parents,” Holness said.
“These students are not always the product of neglectful parents, or even entirely of their own intent to be disruptive. [To] these students, the government still has a duty, in fact a higher obligation, to ensure that such students remain in the direct observation and guidance of state institutions,” he added.