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‘Botched’ reopening of public schools blasted by teachers’ union

The Bermuda Union of Teachers hits out over the Government’s handling of the return of children to the classroom. (File image)

The Government failed to listen to the profession before the “massively botched” reopening of the island’s public schools, the Bermuda Union of Teachers said yesterday.

Nishanthi Bailey, the BUT president, said teachers had been “bullied” by the education ministry as the Government “forged ahead with policies seemingly designed to fabricate a sense of anxiety and fear” in union members.

Ms Bailey added: “We have faithfully worked with the ministry and department since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 in the midst of pay cuts, intrusive testing regimens, sudden schedule shifts, untold pressure to perform at unreasonable levels and simply outrageous media releases by the Ministry of Education that have not represented the realities of what has truly taken place.

“This has become far too much to quietly accept.

“Our efforts to address the concerns of our 800-plus members, who daily make the inner workings of teaching and learning tick, have been dismissed by their employers, causing a once-amicable alliance in the face of unprecedented conditions to deteriorate into numerous tense impasses.”

Bermuda’s public schools were all expected to open on January 5, but the night before, the Government announced that a staggered approach would be taken because not enough teachers had been cleared to return to the classroom.

Most of the island’s preschools and primary schools were open today, but the majority of the island’s middle schools and both public senior schools remained shut.

Ms Bailey said that teachers had been forced to follow “irrational” directions and had been threatened with having their pay docked for “reasonable actions”.

She added: “Enough is enough. The bullying, demonising and finger pointing must stop immediately if we are to navigate our way through this current state of affairs.

“Teachers are not the villains of this narrative and no one should feel bullied, threatened or penalised as a result of unreasonable requests that do nothing to aid in solving the crisis we are currently facing.”

She called on the Education Emergency Measures Committee to meet as soon as possible and appealed for a rethink of the plan to reopen schools to take account of the profession’s expert advice.

The union leadership added that they could not discuss the possibility of industrial action as there had not been a general membership meeting to discuss the controversy — but that some members had called for a meeting to be held.

Anthony Wolffe, the BUT general secretary, said: “We have had to go to the point of calming them down because of where we are in this pandemic having a general membership meeting at this time is very difficult.”

Ms Bailey emphasised that teachers wanted to return to the job but they were faced with a range of problems that had to be resolved.

She said: “These are issues that have been ongoing for this entire school year that have not been addressed.

“Members are being treated in a way that is quite frankly unacceptable.”

Dante Cooper, the BUT vice-president, added: “We show up to meetings and sometimes they cancel them last minute. Other times the people who have the power to make decisions do not come, so we do not receive answers.

“When it came to the pre-return, we have been actively sending information, phoning the minister, calling the department trying to have them come to the table so we can get this resolved.

“This was an issue in September and we wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen again. And unfortunately it has.”

He said morale among teachers had been low for some time but had plummeted since the start of the pandemic.

Mr Cooper added: “The morale is the lowest it has ever been.

“Teachers have experienced bullying tactics, they experienced coercion, and what we see right now is the furthest it has ever been.”

Ms Bailey highlighted the resignation of Carika Weldon, the head of the Molecular Diagnostics Lab and government scientific adviser, and said the BUT was “well aware” of the warnings she had given about the lack of test capacity before the schools returned.

She added: “If we empower people and put them in place to advise and do such things to make sure that the community is kept safe, one has to wonder why we are not following the advice.“

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education said that the Government had met the union this evening about their concerns.

She added: “The BUT has raised several points that the ministry explained and clarified with all parties agreeing that the priority is to ensure safe resumption of services to students.

“Concerning the issue of pay deductions raised by the union, the ministry will be investigating communications regarding this.”

Ben Smith, the shadow education minister, said teachers deserved to have their voices heard and appealed for better communication.

He added: “It’s time for the ministry to be willing to meet with the BUT in earnest and work collaboratively for the betterment of educators and students in the Bermuda public school system. This is not the time for divisiveness.”

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Published January 08, 2022 at 7:59 am (Updated January 08, 2022 at 10:38 am)

‘Botched’ reopening of public schools blasted by teachers’ union

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