PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) posed dozens of questions to Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct that transpired between the former school manager of St. Dominic High School and a student, and what has been the ministry’s approach to handling the matter.
Samuel opened Thursday’s public meeting with a presentation on the ministry’s process of reporting of incidents involving school authority figures and students to the ministry. In his presentation he noted that everyone has the duty to report a case of child abuse to the Court of Guardianship and/or the police.
In the event an incident or suspicion of child abuse in any form is reported to the Inspectorate, the Court of Guardianship is immediately contacted and an incident reported is drafted and sent to the Court of Guardianship.
Samuel told MPs that in such an event, the parents will be strongly advised to report this incident to the juvenile police and the police station. He said the Inspectorate takes reports of all incidents seriously and acts in its capacity to ensure that the proper and legal procedures are taken. “To date there has never been an incident of any form of child abuse formally reported to the Inspectorate,” he added.
In the first round of questions National Alliance (NA) MP Angelique Romou sought clarity from Samuel on which institution the school boards would have report to – the Court of Guardianship or the police. “Is the minister aware if the school board reported the incident to the Court of Guardianship?” she asked. She further asked whether the minister would report this incident to the Court of Guardianship.
Party for Progress (PFP) MP Melissa Gumbs said the meeting in parliament was more than just about the allegations. She said it was about the authority of the ECYS Ministry to oversee, access and control the establishments in country that claim to have an educational purpose. “It is about identifying problematic persons in authority positions and making sure that they are never given an opportunity to hold such a position again,” she added.
Gumbs asked Samuel to clarify whether he had any knowledge whether the school board had gone through the process of reporting the incident to the relevant authorities. She asked him to inform whether, in the upcoming legislations, there would be penalties to school boards that are repeat offenders by not reporting and transparently resolving cases such as this.
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams enquired what had been done with the many policies concerning child abuse, the rights of the child, etc. She also asked how the case at St. Dominic High was being handled. She said Samuel had not explained this sufficiently in his statements in regard to that matter. She asked him to further elucidate what had happened when it came to the reporting of the incident that took place.
Independent MP Solange Duncan asked what the ministry would do moving forward in regard to incidents described in the meeting, “especially because there is no provision in the secondary education ordinance.”
She said what is lacking is a pragmatic approach to problems. “Knowing the articles of the law is not going to help someone in a time of need when an incident is happening in front of them,” said Duncan.
She said transparency is necessary, from government and school boards. “I am asking that processes be made public so that people know and understand: when this happens, this is what we need to do,” she said.
NA MP George Pantophlet suggested that Samuel should caucus with fellow ministers on other Dutch islands and learn about similar experiences they have faced and the laws they have governing such incidents. “It should never come across as if these are isolated cases on St. Maarten. It happens all over the world.”
He asked Samuel to disclose how many of these incidents had been reported over the last five years and what were the outcomes of these reports.
United People’s (UP) Party MP Rolando Brison cautioned about the reaction often observed among political parties when an issue arises in the public. He spoke on the need for legislative attention where needed.
“Responsibility is across the board,” he said. “When I read that article (234A) the responsibility of people of society to report these things, I don’t see that as a singular responsibility, that is a collective societal responsibility. When you have a civil code system that why you embed it within your civil code, because you want your society to understand: this is the behaviour we expect of you.”
Brison also touched on the parents’ responsibility in these situations. He asked Samuel whether parents are reporting these incidents and what is the action taken from the parents' side.
PFP MP Raeyhon Peterson said it is abundantly clear that a higher form of supervision has been necessary and “it should not be that you have to wait for a National Ordinance.”
He further emphasised to Samuel the importance of Article 234A of the Civil Code on how this can be centralised within the community. He asked Samuel about the bottlenecks to get this working at the representable level that it should: “Is it funding, is it Court of Guardianship? … Does parliament need to take action, or does a separate department need to be established in order for us to execute Article 234A?” he asked.
Samuel is expected to return to Parliament at a later date to provide answers to all questions posed by MPs.