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Legal blow for parents and teachers group

The Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association's legal challenge against reforms and practices implemented by the Ministry of Education has been knocked back by the Supreme Court.

The BPTSA objected to how teacher transfers were conducted in the public school system as well as the enactment of new Parent Council Rules on the basis that parents were not properly consulted.

Harry Matthie, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the group, also sought to quash the decision by Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education, to appoint the School Reorganisation Advisory Committee (Score) to recommend which schools should be consolidated or closed on the same grounds.

Yesterday, Justice Stephen Hellman dismissed Mr Matthie's applications for judicial review on the issue of transfers and the establishment of Parent Council Rules.

The judgment was welcomed by Mr Scott who told a press conference: “I am pleased that this ongoing dispute is now at an end.

I am thankful for the decision of the court as it related to transfers and the Parent Council Rules. On the issue of school reorganisation, any judgment would have been premature in the absence of any decision. Therefore we fully support the adjournment.

“I am close to making an announcement on school reorganisation and you should expect to hear from me within the next few weeks, before the end of the current school year.

“Ultimately the Supreme Court of Bermuda decided that the ministry had the right to make important changes to the public education system. The decision was definitive and, our actions were in fact lawful.”

Mr Justice Hellman ruled that prior to new legislation introduced in March 2015 the Education Commissioner should have consulted with the PTA of a school before a decision to transfer a teacher or principal was made.

He left the door open for the BPTSA to restore their legal challenge to the appointment of the Score committee after Mr Scott had published his final decision on school reorganisation.

Mr Justice Hellman said: “I shall grant an declaration that prior to March 29, 2015, and as a result of the legitimate expectations on the part of the PTAs of maintained schools recognised by the court in T.N. Tatem, the Commissioner was required to consult with the PTA of a maintained school before making a decision to transfer a principal to or from that school, or to transfer a teacher to that school, irrespective of whether the transfer was voluntary or involuntary.

“Other than the granting of these declarations the application for judicial review of the transfers is dismissed.”

At the end of yesterday's hearing lawyer Delroy Duncan, representing the Ministry of Education, moved to clarify the situation surrounding teacher transfers.

He said: “Prior to March 2015, transfers were potentially unlawful if they were done in breach of that expectation, but subsequent to that time transfers can take place?”

Mr Justice Hellman responded: “That is correct.”

Mr Justice Hellman dismissed Mr Matthie's application for judicial review in respect of the establishment of Parent Council Rules by the 2015 Education (Parent Council) Rules, and adjourned the application for judicial review of the Minister's decision to appoint the Score committee.

But he added: “I am satisfied that it would be premature to rule on the lawfulness of the consultation process prior to the minister's decision as to closure and consolidation.

“I therefore adjourn the hearing of the application for judicial review of the reorganisation, with liberty to either party to restore with 28 days after the publication of the minister's final decision on school reorganisation.

“If, within that timeframe, neither party lodges a written application to restore, the application will stand dismissed.”

Last night Mr Matthie told The Royal Gazette the group was considering its options. He said he would “invite parents to a meeting to discuss the ruling and if enough people signed to say they want better consultation then we will consider our options further.”

Mr Matthie said there was no membership system at the BPTSA and therefore it was difficult to say how many people are affiliated with it.

• To see Mr Scott's statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

Update: this story has been amended to include comments from Mr Matthie

Harry Matthie, of the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association (File photograph)

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Published June 04, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 04, 2016 at 10:15 am)

Legal blow for parents and teachers group

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