updated 3/13/2008 8:08:31 AM ET 2008-03-13T12:08:31

Faced with rising violence in schools, Jamaica's education chief is suggesting an unusual approach: Recruit teachers to work as campus cops.

Under the proposal, teachers could apply to become district constables with the power to search and hold students until police arrive.

Education Minister Andrew Holness said Wednesday that the idea is to tap the institutional knowledge of teachers, who often have worked at their schools for years and understand their problems better than police school resource officers, who are spread thin.

Teachers who apply would be encouraged to give up academic responsibilities but could continue teaching.

Students murdered
At least three high school students have been killed on Jamaica's campuses since January, most recently last week. Education officials have banned cell phones from campuses and ordered school resource officers to search students and facilities for weapons.

Holness said violence and discipline problems are keeping teachers and principals from doing their jobs.

But many in the community are wary of teachers taking on a law enforcement role -- including teachers themselves.

'Atmosphere of fear'
Ena Barclay, chief of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, said the group's 20,000 members wanted to hear more about the proposal before taking a position. But she described Jamaica's teachers as being "really concerned" about increasing violence in schools.

"They don't want to teach in an atmosphere of fear," Barclay said.

The education minister hopes public debate will win Jamaicans over to giving teachers limited police powers and training them to handle violent students.

"If parents and teachers had a full understanding of the issue, they would support (it)," Holness said. "I'm not backing off the idea."

Under Holness' plan, the teachers-turned-constables would not carry firearms or handcuffs, he added.

Police have declined to comment, and the president of the Jamaica Teachers Association could not be reached.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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