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BPTSA court bid to block teacher transfers

Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman (File photograph)

A judge has questioned the timing of an attempt to block teacher and principal transfers — two weeks before the new school term.

The Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association was in Civil Court yesterday to seek a judicial review against the Ministry of Education’s decision affecting at least seven schools from September 8.

Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman, who heard arguments from Eugene Johnston on behalf of the BPTSA, reflected on the timing of the injunction, saying: “It is not an ideal way to do it.”

Mr Johnston replied: “A judicial review was a last resort — we tried amicably before.”

After hearing Mr Johnston’s claim that proper consultation was not carried out before the switches were announced, Mr Justice Hellman gave him leave to seek the judicial review.

The BPTSA’s action is also aiming to block school closures and consolidations, and the enactment of new parent council rules due to be enforced next month.

The BPTSA wrote to the ministry last month to voice concerns over proposed transfers announced by the ministry for Prospect Primary, Port Royal Primary, Heron Bay Primary, West End Primary, Paget Primary and East End Primary. Clearwater Middle School is to undergo six changes, including the principal and vice principal.

Parents were given more say in the reform of public schools by the Education Amendment Act 2015, after a landmark ruling in 2012 that overturned the ministry’s attempt to transfer two principals against the wishes of students and parents.

Mr Johnston yesterday referred to a ministerial promise made on September 16, 2011, that the statutory role envisaged for school governing boards in the running of maintained schools would be played by Parent Teacher Associations.

Applicants expected, as a matter of public law, that they would be consulted by the Commissioner of Education before deciding to transfer the principals in question.

It is unclear whether the BPTSA is the official body to be consulted as each school is also represented by a PTA president.

Towards the end of the hearing, the PTA president at Prospect Primary, Freedom Charles, informally addressed the judge. She said that she had been adequately consulted over the proposals.

No one from the Attorney-General’s Chambers appeared at Civil Court yesterday morning. The office was not legally required to attend the ex parte hearing.

The judge said: “The Attorney-General’s office could not attend because they have no instructions from the ministry. If the Attorney-General had knowledge that there are PTAs that oppose this action [by the BPTSA] they could have been here and they could have been helpful.”

Mr Johnston said he did not believe there was adequate consultation as all that his client received was an invitation to attend an information session about the rules. “Instead of a legitimate consultation exercise, the rules were shoved down their throat,” Mr Johnston said.

The judge said Mr Johnston had an arguable case and gave him leave to go forward and seek judicial review.

It is understood that some of the teacher and principal transfers were voluntary and, if the injunction stands, they may have to remain in their positions against their wishes.

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