The candidates for Newlands talked about re-integrating the Cayman Islands public school system based on nationality, and used that issue as a springboard into discussion of inclusion for students with disabilities.
Incumbent Alva Suckoo and challengers Roydell Carter, Raul Gonzalez and Wayne Panton participated in a debate aired on the Cayman Crosstalk radio show on Tuesday.
(All of the candidates previously participated in a candidates forum hosted earlier by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.)
Suckoo said, “The segregation that exists now didn’t exist when I was in high school, and I found that actually made for a better education experience.”
He said, “Overall the desegregation of the public school system is something that I wholeheartedly support. I think it goes a long way to community building.”
Panton said attending the Cayman Islands High School with Caymanians and non-Caymanians led to “lifelong friendships” that wouldn’t happen today. He said attempting to integrate all high schools into one major high school, for example, would lead to other issues such as concentration of traffic.
“I’m not sure that there’s a lot that can be done other than trying to build sports-oriented approaches where people get to integrate more,” Panton said.
Pivoting to inclusion of students with disabilities, Panton said, “We also need to look specifically at things like inclusion for those special needs students as well. I don’t believe in segregation of special needs students.”
He said, “Everybody, no matter how they’re born, has a right to dignity and respect and to be able to participate just as every student does.”
Gonzalez said segregation in education based on nationality or abilities needs to be eradicated.
“Segregation at all levels should not be tolerated. We need to get rid of it,” he said.
He said special-needs students should be incorporated into mainstream schools, along with the specialist support staff.
“Segregation at all levels, it just has to be stamped out. We have to start from now. If we could start now, we will reach the finish line, wherever that line is. But the longer we just talk about it and talk about it, we ain’t going to get nowhere,” Gonzalez said. “We just have to deal with it now.”
Carter said integration of nationalities and inclusion of students with disabilities needs to be addressed, even if that means adopting a different approach in education, such as having UK-style academies.
“One of the issues that we’re having with this separation of students is it’s reverting to some other indirect social issues. You have a lot of bashing and bullying of students, etc. Because the students are not working together during their formative years, it becomes much more of a challenge for them socially in growing up,” he said.
On the topic of special education needs, Suckoo said it can take up to 2 years for a child to be identified or diagnosed with a challenge or disability and a treatment plan developed.
“The resources aren’t there and that’s where I think we need to focus. I don’t think there’s too much of an issue with integrating special needs kids into the classroom, but when they’re there how do we deal with it, how do we handle it?” he said.
Panton said a difficulty is that when a student ages out of Lighthouse School, they can encounter a waiting list of up to 50 people for the Sunrise Adult Training Centre, leaving them without support.
“These things that we are doing are a disservice to our society and to those people,” he said, saying there should be an expansion in facilities or creation of a new school to address those needs.
Gonzalez described that gap as “an injustice to our people” and said there should be more schools built in more districts, immediately.
Carter pointed out that during the gap between Lighthouse and Sunrise, some students can lose their health insurance coverage while they are waiting, and that should be corrected as well.