Motorcade rides length of island to protest school closure
A motorcade of more than 50 vehicles snaked its way across the length of the island on Saturday in protest at the pending closure of West End Primary School.
The Somerset school is one of eight public primary schools earmarked to be shut down in a shake up of the public school system by the Government.
But the announcement last year that it was on the hit list has prompted anger among parents and former pupils, who argued that the school is a hub of the community that played a key role in the education of Blacks.
Scores of cars arrived at the school’s playing field on Scott’s Hill Road, Sandys, before heading to Dockyard. Blasting horns and flashing lights, the motorcade then drove through Hamilton.
Stops were made outside the Ministry of Education offices on Church Street and the Progressive Labour Party headquarters on Church Street before moving on to St George.
Ahead of Saturday’s latest demonstration, organiser Ellen-Kate Horton said that it was time for the Government to start listening to the people.
Ms Horton – a former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education – said: “We’re hoping that the Government will begin to listen and take the people seriously.
“They haven’t done so -- so far -- but we will continue to try.”
Ms Horton likened the strength of feeling in the community to protesters who blockaded the House of Assembly in 2016 in protest at plans to build a new airport.
At that time, the current Progressive Labour Party government was in opposition, and backed the protest.
Mrs Horton said: “If the One Bermuda Alliance government had done this, the current government would be standing with us today.
“I simply hope that the PLP will take us seriously and understand our history. The thought that history doesn’t matter is pure nonsense.
“West End is very important because it started just after segregation and at that time none of us were even allowed to be educated.
“Today it remains one of the oldest primary schools in the entire western hemisphere that has continually served Black children – for 154 years now.”
Founded in 1869, it was one of the first schools that accepted and educated Black children.
Ms Horton said she had heard that education authorities had been directing parents away from the school by recommending that their children go elsewhere.
“People signing their children up for West End are being told to sign up for Somerset Primary – that’s concerning,” she said.
“Why? Because the Government is not listening to us – they intend to close us down.”
Another protester, Andrea Brangman, said that four generations of her family had attended the school.
She said: “It comes from a firm foundation. Everyone is forgetting about our roots and where we have grown from. If you remove the firm foundation, you can expect some form of crumbling effect.
“Too often, people are rushing to keep up with what’s going on now and missing years of what we did to build things up. It’s sad because not everything that is expedient is profitable.
“You can’t dismiss the past. Those people that made West End Primary what it is … we can’t just throw that away.”
Latisha Lister-Burgess, who has two sons at the school, questioned the methodology the Government had used to decide where the axe should fall.
West End Primary School is one of eight public primaries earmarked for closure as part of the Government’s education reform initiative.
Outside experts were drafted in by the Ministry of Education to assess each school, scoring them points on 19 practical criteria such as the size and condition of buildings, the potential for further development, and traffic access.
The plan will see one primary school per parish, except for Pembroke which will have two, the phasing out of middle schools and the introduction of signature schools.
The Berkeley Institute and Cedar Bridge Academy were created as the first two signature schools in September and the Government plans to add Sandys Secondary and Clearwater Middle Schools to the list.
The island’s fifth and final signature school will be located at either Dellwood Middle School in Pembroke or Whitney Institute in Smith’s.
She said: “The Government should be going out into the parishes and asking ‘where is your community hub?’
“Their research was done by external people who never came out to the community. How can it represent the community if you haven’t asked the community?”
Ms Lister-Burgess, who is a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, added: “This was a school that allowed anyone to come, and so if you lived in Somerset at a certain time, if you were a certain skin colour, there was only one option for you.
“Over time it became the school for everyone. It’s been the hub of the community for years, it’s the neighbourhood school, the community school.
“So if the Government is saying they want parish schools why close the school that has been the parish school all this time.
“It’s families and traditions and how things have come down, so to see that being thrown away because some other building might make more sense – we all know you can renovate any building.
“So to say it’s the building rather than the hub of the community makes no sense. There are families and families and families and families that are represented in these buildings.”
• More pictures of the motorcade can be found here.
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