All Hell Breaks Loose

1st March 2019

It started off as a normal ‘Thank God It’s Friday!’ (aka TGIF) day with the male staff coming in dressed in traditional garb because many of them go off straight from school to mosque for Friday prayers. School closes early due to this so everybody is in a more relaxed mood because they all consider the weekend to begin on Friday at noon!

I myself have an even better deal because I only teach the first two periods on a Friday so – eat your heart out, everybody! – my own weekend starts as early as 10:00 am on a Friday!

I usually use the rest of Friday to catch up on my marking and put finishing touches to whatever I have started during that week so that’s what I was doing in my little office when the thunderbolt dropped out of a clear blue sky!

During the last half hour of school, I heard teachers talking in urgent voices and stepped out of my room to see them walking out of their classes and converging on the common paved area in the middle of the High School. It turned out that there was a commotion near the front gate.

The word quickly spread that the 13 year old boy who had been expelled from Marina High School in the first week of February for engaging in under-age driving after the school’s cross country run (he was spinning a rented car in front of the school entrance thereby endangering the lives of the other students who were gathered outside the school gates) had returned to school with a court order.

Soon after his expulsion, his mother came into school and threw a huge tantrum demanding that her son be taken back by the Head and when he politely declined to do so, she swore at him and screamed vengeance saying ‘Allah will punish you!’

She also threatened him with dire consequences saying ‘I am Gambian. Wait and see what I will do to you!’

However, the Head of High School and the Board stood by their decision not to re-admit the boy into Marina.

This woman had somehow managed to obtain an injunction from a High Court judge who ordered the Head to let the boy back into Marina or shut the school down. William did neither and by late morning a black car with dark tinted windows and without number plates (yikes!) had drawn up outside the school entrance and three paramilitary men walked forcibly past the security guards and into the school to try to arrest him for contempt of court. We all assumed that they were the police since they were dressed in dark blue-black uniforms. However, they were not policemen – they were a paramilitary squad. Unbelievable!

The fire alarm was rung to get all the students and teachers out of class and onto the playing field where William addressed the gathering and told them that he was compelled to close the school for the day and asked the kids to tell their parents to check their mail over the weekend because they would be sent an email informing them about when school would be re-opened.

That’s when we all realised that things had become serious and all the teachers gathered together in front of the administration building to hustle the paramilitary men away from William. My old allergy towards all military personnel emerged and I raised my voice and asked them to ‘bugger off our campus’. They looked shocked at the angry reaction of all the teachers as all 60 plus staff surrounded them while a few of us closed the door to the Head’s office and stood guard in front of it.

As the paramilitary men were hustled off towards the entrance gates, the students rushed forward after them hooting and stopped at the front gate laughing as they hastily clambered back into their black car. The kids spontaneously broke out into the Marina school song which I have never heard sung with such gusto and feeling before!

The Chairperson of the Board of Governors who is herself a Justice of the High Court arrived within minutes and advised the Head to answer the court summons. So a lawyer parent who had also arrived at the school drove William to the High Court in the capital city Banjul. The teachers all rallied as one and also made their way to the High Court as did Paul and Rai and me who were given a ride by another parent.

We all sat outside the room where the High Court was in session and waited for a couple of hours until a decision was reached. No one could remember such a thing ever happening in the history of The Gambia over the expulsion of one child. And certainly not on a Friday afternoon!

When the Head of the High School finally walked out of the court room, we couldn’t believe what we heard. He was out on bail with the case being fixed for the 18th of March – and one of the bail conditions was that he had to re-admit the boy to Marina School. We were all simply incredulous.

Everyone returned to the school and met in the main hall where we all expressed solidarity with William. He asked the teachers to meet and decide what they wanted to do on Monday and said that he couldn’t tell us what to do because it had to be our decision.

There followed a heated discussion in the staff room and it was agreed that we all signed a petition stating that we were not willing to have the boy in the school and would refuse to teach him in our classes.

Meanwhile the parents and Board members continued their meeting in the hall and made a decision to close the school on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th March in order to file for a restraining order from the court to stop the student returning to the school – and to re-open Marina school on Wednesday 6th March.

Teachers and parents were sent emails over this weekend informing them of this decision. So we are looking at a four day weekend now and planning for any eventuality that might take place when we return to school on the Wednesday.

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