The decision by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to order the closure of schools that were reportedly involved in the recent demonstrations does not augur well for the country’s peace and security; and this is worrisome, the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) has said.
INCHR Acting Commissioner Bartholomew Colley said the closure of the schools by the Ministry of Education (MOE) upon the directive of the President is a violation of the students’ fundamental rights to education.
An outraged President Sirleaf, upon her arrival from the United States on September 28, mandated the MOE to close with immediate effect schools that carried out strike actions when some of their teachers previously went on strike demanding the resignation of the Minister of Education, George K. Werner.
The President also called for the dismissal of teachers that were involved in the strike action and promised to deal with students who were part of the demonstration.
This happened after protesting students in Unification Town (Smell-No-Taste) near the Roberts International Airport (RIA) blocked the airport-Monrovia highway, demanding the return of their teachers to classes.
This was preceded by another strike in Kakata, Margibi County, when the aggrieved students blocked normal commercial activities and the free-flow of traffic by taking to the streets in solidarity with their teachers, who were demanding the resignations of the Minister of
Education and the Superintendent of the Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS), George Werner and Adolphus Benjamin Jacob,s respectively.
The students’ actions, however, turned violent, resulting in the ransacking of several public buildings in Kakata. They also reportedly vandalized several government facilities in other parts of Margibi County. The students also blocked the main RIA highway for hours, causing passengers to endure unnecessary delays, with some missing their flights.
President Sirleaf said the students’ action resulted in losses to the government, private citizens, companies and organizations, especially airlines; and as such, the students would have to bear the consequences.
Some of the schools involved in the demonstration were Lango Lappaye High School, E. J. Yancy, the Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute (KRTTI) Demonstration School (all in Kakata); as well as the Harbel Multilateral and R. S. Caulfield High School in Smell-No-Taste.
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Colley said the INCHR was troubled by the continuous standoff between the government and the National Teacher’s Association of Liberia (NTAL), which has inadvertently kept some students in Margibi County out of classrooms, while their colleagues are pursuing their academic sojourns.
Mr. Colley meanwhile frowned on “the naked display of power associated with intolerance” towards the education of the children; an action which, he said, is not only an abuse of the students’ fundamental rights to education, “but a clear denial that is also tantamount to brewing a new generation that would be uneducated.”
“The INCHR once again takes this time to remind all powers in this conflict to exercise restraint in dealing with the issues and situations for the sake of our children and nation,” Mr. Colley said, adding, “We need to go back to the drawing board and chart a new course for progress. It is never too late for the leaders on both sides to come and reason together. By working together, we will help improve our educational system from its current status to what we all want it to be.”
The MOE authorities recently dismissed ten teachers in Margibi County, among them Newton Coleman, vice principal of E.J. Yancy High School in Kakata, who is also the president of the NTAL Margibi County Branch; and Mrs. Berbage Mottee, Principal of the Harbel Multilateral High School in the same county.
The teachers were dismissed for their roles in the strike actions, which instigated a violent protest by students of the Lango Lippaye High School, E.J. Yancy and the Harbel Multilateral High Schools in Margibi County, during which several properties were destroyed in Kakata.
But Mr. Colley said the INCHR has commissioned an in-depth investigation of the “unfortunate event,” and that the findings will help the Commission to take an official position and proffer recommendations on the situation.
Mr. Colley meanwhile called on both the MOE and the NTAL to desist from further actions that will cost Liberians a peaceful and smooth transition in 2017.