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School closure decisions had to be depoliticised, says Rabain

House of Assembly (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A Historical Legacy Committee is to be formed to share the history of schools that provided Black children with educational opportunities during racial segregation.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, made the announcement in the House of Assembly yesterday morning having announced on Thursday that eight primary schools will be closed including West End Primary School, one of the first schools in Bermuda to teach Black students.

“The idea of this committee is to determine the best way to document, record and share this rich history, not only to preserve it for future generations but to help communities understand and cope with the intergenerational trauma and pain that still exists today within our community as a result.

“Work towards the Historical Legacy Committee has already begun and further updates will be provided in due course.“

He said there would be community engagement and he shared ideas for documentation including oral histories, histories of primary schools, timelines, historical exhibitions and the potential renaming or some parish primary schools.

He added that the curriculum would include school and educational histories.

“Our history in Bermuda, especially education, has been filled with examples of deliberate and purposeful exclusion of certain segments of society, mostly Black children, to our country’s detriment.

“We will start the process of writing a new chapter and creating new memories for our children and future generations to look back upon fondly. A future in which any child, regardless of who they are, are able to best succeed.”

Speaking directly to West End Primary School which has been slated for closure, he said he had received a petition from those opposed to the closure of the school and added: “The West End Primary School has a very powerful 152-year history … a history that unfortunately is rooted in racial discrimination that has seen one school favoured over another in the past based on reasons of race.

“While this is a critical legacy that must be recognised, as I have mentioned on many occasions, our process focused on the sites of our current schools and which is best suited for redevelopment for our children …

“Despite many of us in the Progressive Labour Party sharing and being subject to the same history and legacy, we have decided that this decision must be depoliticised. This does not mean dismissing the past; it is about privileging Bermuda’s children's future.“

Mr Rabain said he was “struck” by a comment made by a gentleman who passed him the petition who said: “Do not make the decision based on politics. Our children lose out when that is done.”

Mr Rabain told the House: “We used well thought out and defined criteria that identified the best existing school site in each parish that could be redeveloped or rebuilt into the primary school of the future.”

Susan Jackson, Opposition MP, asked how the minister would respond to the students, parents and educators at high-performing schools that face closure.

Mr Rabain said: “High performing schools are not an indication of whether the site is suitable for redevelopment,” adding that it was intended that all schools will have the tools to be high-performing under the new plan.

Mr Rabain added that the Learning First redesign team is working with schools to identify their successes and ensure those elements are transitioned into new schools.

There will be no primary school closures this school year or the next school year. Mr Rabain moved to assure parents and students that the plans will be phased in over a period of no less than five years, between 2023 and 2027.

Mr Rabain said that in a few months, a project and programme management firm will be secured and a supporting team will be created to develop a transition plan.

“This will be anchored by the capital works project and finance plan,” he added.

Mr Rabain said that an RFP would be put out in September. When asked what the budget for the firm was, Mr Rabain said he didn’t have the information to hand but would provide it at a later time.

He said that the Ministry of Education will engage with teachers, students and parents throughout the transition process.

He said since engagement sessions on primary schools started in January 2021, there had been 131 written submissions, 434 individual questions and over 1,000 signatories.

The full statement can be read here.

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Published July 24, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated July 24, 2021 at 7:57 am)

School closure decisions had to be depoliticised, says Rabain

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