Former West End Primary pupils stage protest to save school
A former education minister yesterday backed a campaign to save a historic primary school scheduled for closure.
Randy Horton, an ex-Progressive Labour Party minister and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly, said that the Ministry of Education “dismissed” a plea to keep West End Primary School in Sandys open.
Mr Horton, who also went to the school and taught there later, said it deserved to be saved, but admitted the Government could do what it wanted.
But he added: “This is a full opportunity for a discussion of the issues to take place before moving forward.
“I just think it’s very important to listen and to have further dialogue before dismissing them.
“It seems that the people have been dismissed and my reason for being there was to offer support.”
Mr Horton added that the school was “very significant” and its memory should be preserved if it was not saved.
He was speaking after he and other former pupils of the school took to the streets to speak out against the Ministry of Education’s choice to close the school.
Mr Horton, also a football star who played for New York Cosmos, was joined by West Ham United legend Clyde Best and campaign group, the West End Warriors for Legacy, at Hamilton City Hall between noon and 2pm to spread their message through brochures and signs.
Mr Best, a West End pupil in the 1950s, said that the school had a tradition of “unbelievable” education for Black Bermudians – a legacy that would be “completely disregarded” if it was shut down.
He added: “There are a bunch of dynamite people who went to the school – and they would be disappointed to learn that we’re talking about closing it instead of keeping it up.”
Mr Best said that West End PS was one of the first schools in Bermuda set up to teach Black youngsters.
He added that the number of doctors, lawyers and politicians who had attended the school made it an important landmark.
Mr Best said the proposed closure of the school told him that “a lot of the people who are in charge don’t understand and don’t know the history”.
He added: “We have a habit of disregarding our history – let’s keep our history and if it means doing whatever it takes to maintain West End, then let’s do that.”
Mr Best said: “It goes back many, many years – we’re not talking about something that just opened up 50 years ago, we’re talking about something more than 100 years old.
“That alone should make you want to say to yourself ‘let’s work with these people to keep this place open’.
“I don’t want to hear that the building is too old to repair – we can find the finances to fix it up and keep it going.”
West End Primary School was founded in 1869, not long after slavery was abolished in the US, to provide education for Black children refused places at other schools in segregated Bermuda.
The Ministry of Education announced on July 22 that West End and seven other primary school would be closed under the Government’s education shake-up, which would also see an end to middle schools.
Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said last night he wanted to work with the West End Warriors to preserve the school’s history.
But he refused to change the decision to axe the primary school.
Mr Rabain said it was a “difficult” choice made after “extensive consultation and engagement”.
He added: “While we always look back to learn, to respect and to value our history, we are also determined to look forward and focus on and dedicate ourselves to what young people need for their futures and the future of Bermuda.
“Again, this has meant difficult decisions, with the knowledge that some community members will disagree and be unhappy with, no matter what the decision.”
Mr Rabain said education ministry officials had met people connected to the school to hear their concerns.
He added that Somerset Primary School had been chosen as the parish’s sole primary school for several reasons, including having enough space to create “a 21st century parish primary and preschool”.
Mr Rabain said that the education ministry had contacted conservationists to find ways to commemorate the “rich education history and legacy” of Bermuda.