St. Augustine, FL: School Rules in Colonial Times

May 10, 2012

Regulations for schools, classrooms, teachers and students. Talk about educational control!

If you have ever thought you had a lot of rules to follow in school, check out the ones below from 1786 in the city of St. Augustine. This was during the final decades when the Spanish owned Florida. In those days, schooling was definitely controlled by the Catholic Church but in the name of His Majesty the King of Spain. Formal education during most of colonial St. Augustine was for only for boys, even those of African ancestry–as long as they were not slaves. Sorry ladies but that’s how it was back in the day.

The Castillo de San Marcos, turned over to the United States in 1821

These rules were written by Father Thomas Hassett, Parish Priest, Vicar and Ecclesiastical Judge of St. Augustine. They lasted until the city passed into American hands in 1821. Father Hassett was just one of many Irish priests who served Spanish St. Augustine over the centuries. The primary source of this information is the East Florida Papers from the Library of Congress. But to make them easier to understand, I cut out the less interesting parts and paraphrased much of the original wording.

Whether you are a student, a teacher, a parent or a history buff, I think you’ll enjoy what follows:

  1. All teachers must be approved by St. Augustine church and city leaders.

    The King of Spain’s royal coast of arms

  2. All teachers must obey and carry out the following rules completely.
  3. The King of Spain pays teachers sufficiently. In that light, no teacher may demand any kind of payment from parents.
  4. Teachers shall prepare a list of all students in the city and request that their parents send their children to school. If parents keep their children away from school for whatever reason, the teachers shall report them to the Parish Priest. The Parish Priest shall decide how to deal with those parents.
  5. School shall open each morning at 7 am. Students shall not be dismissed for lunch before noon.

    A table setting in the Oldest House Museum Complex in St. Augustine

  6. After lunch, school shall open again at 2 pm.
  7. Each day, except in winter, students shall not be dismissed before sunset.
  8. Each day in winter, students shall be dismissed a half hour before sunset.
  9. As each student enters school both in the morning and after lunch: he shall greet with proper courtesy, first his teacher and then his fellow pupils; he shall then hang up his hat after seating himself in all modesty; after crossing himself in the name of the Holy Trinity, he shall take up the book or paper with which his study is to begin.
  10. At 8 am in the morning and at 2:15 in the afternoon, the teacher shall call the roll. If anyone fails to answer, the teacher shall immediately send one or two boys to that student’s home to learn the cause of his absence, and if necessary, to bring him to school. If warranted, the teacher shall then apply appropriate punishment to the student when he arrives at school.

    The Oldest House Museum on St. Francis Street

  11. Teachers should treat each student impartially as faithful Christians worthy of love and charity.
  12. Teachers shall take special care to get to know each child.

    The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse on STt George Street

  13. Teachers shall try to be moderate in their punishment of students.
  14. Teachers shall not yell or swear at students nor should they throw in their faces the faults of their parents or other relatives. Nor under any circumstances, should teachers allow students to treat each other in this way either. This means in school and anywhere else.
  15. Students shall arrive at school with their hair combed and with their faces, hands and feet clean (if they come barefoot).
  16. Teachers shall not permit a student to attend school if he has a contagious disease. The student’s parents must be notified immediately so they are not offended by having their child kept out of school until the child is cured.
  17. The schoolrooms shall be swept at least once a week by the pupils themselves and the teachers shall appoint enough students to get the job done properly. This task should be shared equally by all students.
  18. No student shall leave the schoolroom, even to go to the bathroom, without getting permission from the teacher.
  19. Not more than one student shall leave the schoolroom at a time. Each time a student leaves the schoolroom, the teacher will give him a special ruler to take with him. The next student needing to leave cannot do so until he obtains that ruler and the permission of the teacher.
  20. When a student leaves the schoolroom, his absence shall be measured by a pendulum hung from the ceiling of that schoolroom. The student shall put that pendulum in motion as he leaves and the teacher shall note whether or not the pendulum is still moving when the student returns with the ruler.
  21. Every month, the Parish Priest and the teachers shall give all students an examination to determine their progress in writing, reading, arithmetic and Christian Doctrine.
  22. Seating in the classroom will be determined by a student’s progress in their examinations.
  23. Teachers shall instruct students how to assist at Mass and in services at the Parish Church on special days of the year. Teachers are to then name two students at a time to assist in these services.

    The St. Augustine Cathedral Basilica

  24. On nights when special religious processions pass through the city streets, the teachers shall attend with their students. No exceptions and no excuses. Teachers are to make sure students behave at these times with modesty and devotion.
  25. Teachers shall attend all services of the Church with their students.

    Tolomato Cemetery on Cordova Street

  26. If a boy dies, the teachers shall march with their students in the boy’s funeral procession. If necessary, four boys shall carry the dead boy’s remains to the burial place.
  27. On four specific days, a year, all students seven years of age and above shall make confession in the presence of their teachers. Just before those days arrive, teachers shall instruct their students how to properly prepare themselves for confession.
  28. Teachers shall not permit any other language than Spanish to be spoken in the school.
  29. Whenever students meet any of their elders in the street, they should greet them with proper courtesy.
  30. Upon leaving school, students should go directly home without loitering, or shouting, or committing mischievous pranks in the streets.
  31. If any black students should attend school, they shall sit apart near the door. But teachers are to give them the same quality of instruction as all the rest.

If you would like to read the actual wording of these rules, click on one fo the selections below:

Original version in English

Original version in Modern Spanish

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