KINGSTON, Jamaica — Faced with rising violence in schools, Jamaica's education chief is suggesting an unusual approach: turn teachers into cops.

Teachers would be invited to become district constables with the power to search and hold law-breaking students until police arrive. They would not carry guns or handcuffs.

Education Minister Andrew Holness said this week 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 campus police — known as school resource officers — who are spread thin.

Teachers who apply would be encouraged to give up classroom responsibilities but could continue teaching if their school allowed it.

The proposal to train teachers as constables is an unusual move, said Edwin Gerler, editor of the national Journal of School Violence and a counselor education professor at North Carolina State University.

"My initial reaction to the idea is that teachers have enormous responsibilities in classrooms," he said. "Adding police functions to the work of teachers seems unthinkable to me."

At least three high school students have been killed on Jamaica's campuses since January, most recently last week. Officials also canceled classes at various rural schools last month after several assaults, including one in which two girls attacked a female vice principal.

Education officials have since 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.

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 said Jamaica's teachers were "really concerned" about increasing violence in schools.

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

The education minister said he has yet to talk about the proposal with police and with other education officials, but hopes that public debate will win Jamaicans over to the idea.

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