One teacher was shot at in the classroom. Another quit after a student threatened to kill the teacher’s 5-year-old daughter. Another became the target of stones hurled by angry students.
It’s been a bad couple of weeks at the PavasHigh School in western San José, where frustrated teachers cancelled classes Monday and demanded that the Public Education Ministry (MEP) do something to stem a rising tide of violence and threats.
Their move worked, for now. Though Education Minister Leonardo Garnier initially told the daily Al Día that one of the teachers’ demands – that two National Police officers be stationed at the school – was unrealistic given available resources, four officers watched over students and staff as classes resumed Tuesday. A response to teachers’ other demands, such as the installation of a metal detector, was still pending at press time.
“There are about 30 problematic students, of a total of 1,300,” educator Ronny Cordero told the daily. He added that these students have been known to hurl Molotov cocktails during class and take out drugs and weapons in the hallways.
Another teacher, whose name was withheld, told the daily that when an English teacher began filling out a suspension form as punishment for a student’s misbehavior, the student told the teacher he would kill him if he filed the form, and revealed a weapon.
What’s to be done? Education Vice-Minister Silvia Víquez and Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal suggested that the teachers will have to take matters into their own hands. Víquez reminded the daily that teachers are allowed to search student’s bags, while Berrocal said that police officers can enter schools only with staff permission and that teachers should impose strict disciplinary measures, or “mano dura.”
Violence in schools, a relatively new problem in Costa Rica, has been on the government’s radar screen since 2004, when two 11-year-old students at a school in Tibás, north of San José, were injured by stray bullets during recess, apparently from the accidental firing of a gun in the backpack of a 17-year-old student (TT, Feb. 20, 2004). After the incident, the Education Ministry introduced new guidelines for searching students’ bags, though the measures were controversial, with critics claiming they violated students’ privacy (TT, Feb. 27, 2004).