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Teacher suing Ministry of Education for defamation

A former CedarBridge Academy teacher has launched a defamation case against the Ministry of Education over documents she claimed were placed in her files without her knowledge.

Karen Clemons told the Supreme Court that a series of five documents she found within her files contained false or misleading statements about her work at the school.

She added that the ministry was required to inform her of the documents and give her an opportunity to respond to them, but that did not take place.

“The defendant had a duty as well as an opportunity to rectify the matter but failed to do so,” Ms Clemons said.

She told the court that she came to work for the Ministry of Education in 2000 after several years as a special-education teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, where she said her records showed her performance was “no less than exemplary”.

Ms Clemons said she began work as an information technology instructor that September.

She told the court she was made aware that as a teacher there were two different personnel files in her name, one at the ministry and another “travelling” file kept at the school.

Ms Clemons added that at the time the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Government and the Bermuda Union of Teachers prohibited “derogatory” material regarding a teacher’s conduct, character, personality of service from being included in their file without their knowledge.

In October 2004, she said Kalmar Richards, the then principal of the school and now Commissioner of Education, observed one of her classes.

Ms Clemons said that she asked Ms Richards if she could review her file and was told to contact her assistant.

She said she subsequently received an e-mail from Ms Richards requesting a copy of her lesson plan and education strategies.

Ms Clemons said she felt the request was odd as such requests were usually made only to new teachers, and came to believe the request was made as a “stall tactic”.

She told the court that when she did review the file in 2006 after a colleague raised concerns about her own file, she found several documents that she either did not receive or had received different versions of.

Ms Clemons noted that some of the documents contained handwritten notes not included on the documents provided to her which she had never been able to respond to or correct.

She told the court that one teacher evaluation in her file was seven pages long and included hand written notes by Ms Richards, but the version she had received was only three pages long.

Ms Clemons said she was later informed that Ms Richards was responsible for determining what documents should be placed in her personnel file.

She said that she went through the grievance process and that Ms Richards was ordered to purge all documents that she had not received from the file.

But she claimed that documents ordered to be purged were actually moved from her “travelling” file to her permanent record.

“Sixteen years on this is still the case,” Ms Clemons added.

She told the court she believed the documents had been included in her personnel files deliberately and maliciously to damage her career and reputation.

The trial continues.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. This is to prevent any statements being published that may jeopardise the outcome of that case.