Teacher complaints system to be overhauled

  • Education minister Diallo Rabain (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Education minister Diallo Rabain (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Teachers accused of misconduct on the job have been paid to languish for months on leave and “go through stuff emotionally”, only for investigations to reveal no wrongdoing.

Education minister Diallo Rabain revealed improvements to administrative leave yesterday in Parliament after MPs were told that 13 educators had been put on paid leave in 2017-18, at a cost of $250,000, with only one teacher dismissed.

Mike Charles, general secretary of the Bermuda Union of Teachers, welcomed the policy changes. He said incidents of student complaints, some of which were believed to be “frivolous”, appeared to have risen.

“That was one of the major issues of the last school year,” Mr Charles said. “I don’t know what took place to cause such a rash.”

Mr Rabain said in the House that any educators cited in a referral were required to take administrative leave while inquiries were conducted.

But the protocols had been deemed “not adequate”, with a need to cut down on “the amount of time that educators are out of the classroom”.

Meanwhile, the BUT head cited the example of four staff at Dellwood Middle School, including the principal, who were put on leave this year for investigation and ultimately cleared.

Mr Charles told The Royal Gazette: “There are teachers who go through stuff emotionally because of this.” He added: “It’s what individuals go through while waiting. I know of one teacher who didn’t even want to go to the grocery store in case he would see kids from the school. He just didn’t want to exacerbate the situation.”

Mr Charles said cases appeared to have escalated where “students say to one another that I can get so-and-so fired”.

“All a student has to say is a ‘you touched me, or you hit me’. Once the allegation is made, there is a process that has to take place.”

Mr Rabain said a committee was updating the policy and new guidelines would be given to staff from all schools at the start of the next school year in September.

Under the old policy, educators had to stay at home while on leave but revised procedures will allow teachers to report to their department and be assigned tasks to “support their students and their respective school”.

Mr Rabain revealed the details in response to questions from Cole Simons, the shadow minister. The minister told MPs that $247,563 of public money was paid to educators on administrative leave in 2017-18.

One teacher was fired after allegations of inappropriate discipline — but the remaining 12 returned to school at the end of their imposed leave.

Of those, seven had faced accusations of physical abuse, four of emotional abuse, and one of verbal abuse.

Mr Simons asked how teachers guilty of “no malfeasance whatsoever” could wait as long as eight or nine months to be cleared.

Mr Charles said that the Department of Child and Family Services was required to conduct immediate and time-consuming investigations into any allegations against teachers.

“They are dealing with the entire island,” Mr Charles said. “They have to find the students and talk to them, and get permission from parents — it must take some time, especially when they have other clients.

“We don’t want there to be abuse. But by the same token, if every frivolous complaint means that a teacher is out for five or six weeks, it doesn’t do any good to the students or the teachers who feel looked upon as being terminated.

“It could be a case of a tap on the shoulder and a student decides ‘you hit me’. On the other hand, and teachers have complained, if the complaint is frivolous, nothing happens.”

To read the minister’s statement in full, click on the PDF below “Related Media”.

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Published Jul 14, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 14, 2018 at 8:36 am)

Teacher complaints system to be overhauled

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