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Comments were 'in no way defamatory’, Commissioner of Education tells jury

Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A former principal at CedarBridge Academy denied yesterday that allegedly defamatory documents were maliciously placed on a former teacher’s personnel file.

Kalmar Richards, now the Commissioner of Education, told the Supreme Court that she held no ill will towards Karen Clemons during her time at the school and denied that notes included in her file were defamatory.

“I had no prior knowledge of Ms Clemons before she came to CedarBridge and had no malice towards her,” she added.

Ms Richards also refuted the suggestion that she was the one responsible for determining what documents should go into a teacher’s files.

Ms Clemons has launched a defamation case against the Ministry of Education claiming that five documents included in her personnel file contained false or misleading information.

While she accepted that the documents were not available to the wider public, she claimed their placement on her file was done maliciously to harm her reputation.

Ms Clemons also said the inclusion of the documents in her file contradicted a collective bargaining agreement between the Government and the Bermuda Union of Teachers.

The agreement said that derogatory documents that impugn a teacher’s character cannot be included unless the teacher is aware of them and given an opportunity to respond.

As the trial continued in the Supreme Court yesterday, Ms Richards said that she had never to her knowledge breached the collective-bargaining agreement.

She said that in 2007 Ms Clemons launched a grievance procedure that resulted in an order that documents she had not been aware of be purged from her file.

Ms Richards added that the tribunal found that there was no evidence that she had acted with misconduct and there was no requirement that she produce a letter of apology.

She said that the documents within the file kept at the school — referred to by Ms Clemons as her “travelling” file — had been removed in accordance with the order.

However, she said she was unaware of what if any action was taken with the permanent file, which was kept with the ministry.

Ms Richards was also questioned about the specifics of some of the documents, including a 2004 report.

Ms Clemons said that while she had received a three-page version of the report, the copy on her file was seven pages long and contained handwritten notes from Ms Richards.

Ms Richards said Ms Clemons should have been given the version of the report with the notes as it was the version that contained her signature.

She added that the comments were written after the substantial evaluation and did not influence its findings.

“I wrote those comments in my capacity as principal and in my authority to make such comments,” she said. “They were in no way defamatory.”

She added that Ms Clemons would have had a chance to respond to the comments, although Ms Richards questioned how she could respond to comments she had not seen.

While Ms Clemons also suggested that the 2007 order to remove the documents from her file indicated that they had been put in the file contrary to the collective-bargaining agreement, Ms Richards denied that it was the case.

“The letter made no mention of that and stated that they had not heard any evidence that I was guilty of misconduct,” she said.

The trial continues.

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