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CedarBridge teacher sues ministry for PTSD

Karen Clemons, former teacher is suing the Bermuda Government over special needs facilities at CedarBridge Academy (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A former CedarBridge teacher is suing the Ministry of Education, claiming she developed post-traumatic stress disorder from working at the school.

Karen Clemons, who is representing herself in the Supreme Court, says she was targeted because she spoke out against the inadequate provision of special education at the Devonshire senior school.

Yesterday, on the first day of the civil case, Ms Clemons took to the witness box and described her ordeal at CedarBridge as “death by 1,000 cuts”.

The court heard Ms Clemons worked at CedarBridge between 2000 and 2006, when she left “because of a mould issue in the classroom”. She then went on to work in a string of other schools including the Berkeley Institute, Paget Primary and Somerset Primary.

The court heard that Ms Clemons learnt of her PTSD diagnosis from a counselling psychologist in October 2009.

Representing the ministry, lawyer Norman MacDonald suggested that Ms Clemons initially researched the symptoms of PTSD and then went to her psychologist to obtain a report that supported her case.

Ms Clemons replied: “That is not true. That is not what happened.

“I wanted to find out what was wrong with me. I provided her with information of events that led up to my injuries so she could make an informed opinion.”

Under further cross-examination, Mr MacDonald quizzed Ms Clemons about why she had been put on review in 2004 at CedarBridge for non-compliance with school policies. He told the court that Ms Clemons had “put in the wrong grades, missed deadlines and failed to submit attendance records”.

Ms Clemons acknowledged that she had been put on review in 2004, but maintained there were a “great number of inconsistencies” in the way teachers were treated for similar failings.

She also claimed that teachers were “handicapped” because they were not adequately informed about which students had behavioural problems.

“I am not used to working in the dark and not knowing what type of student I have,” she said.

Ms Clemons, who had worked as a teacher for six years before starting at CedarBridge, also claimed “it was a waste” for her to have a mentor in her first year at CedarBridge, given her experience.

Mr MacDonald suggested to Ms Clemons: “Your complaints are based on US standards that you were nurtured in. Each jurisdiction may not have to adhere to the same standards.”

Ms Clemons acknowledged that there are no statutes set in Bermuda as there are in Texas, rather just policies, but said that from an educator’s perspective she experienced a “great deviation” in standards at CedarBridge.

Mr MacDonald added: “Kalmar Richards [the principal] would have had to follow those policies whether you agree with them or not.”

Ms Clemons told the Supreme Court that she had never previously sought treatment for stress-related illnesses or sued an employer in any other jurisdiction.

Asked what caused her PTSD, Ms Clemons said: “I developed it after recognising the students were the victims and were suffering detrimental effects on their welfare and their future.

“I couldn’t bring about any change or improvement. I was targeted for speaking my mind — it was like a death by 1,000 cuts.”

• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.