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Protesters campaigning to stop school closure say: ‘the fight goes on’

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Hitting the road: Katura Horton-Perinchief, right, the former Olympian, gestures as the West End Warriors motorcade protest pauses outside Alaska Hall, the headquarters of the ruling Progressive Labour Party, on Till’s Hill, Pembroke. More than 50 vehicles took part in Saturday’s motorcade in protest at the planned closure of West End Primary School (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The fight will go on – that was the defiant message from protesters opposing the closure of West End Primary School, which is scheduled for shutdown as part of a Government shake-up of the education system.

Demonstrators organised a motorcade of more than 50 vehicles that travelled across the island on Saturday to highlight their concerns.

After the event organisers claimed it illustrated that they have island-wide support in their bid to block the closure.

The Somerset school is one of eight primary schools selected for closure as part of the Government’s education reform initiative.

Under the changes, each parish will be served by just a single “community hub” school, except Pembroke which will have two – Victor Scott and West Pembroke Primary School.

But protesters claim that administrators charged with deciding where the axe should fall placed too much weight on practical criteria – such as building size, accessibility, and even plumbing – while ignoring the historic legacy that the 154-year-old West End Primary School has earned in the education of the Black community during segregation.

Ellen-Kate Horton, one of the organisers of Saturday’s motorcade, said that the event had strengthened the group’s resolve to fight the closure.

Ms Horton, a West End Primary School alumni who went on to become a teacher and Permanent Secretary of Education, said: “I think the motorcade went extremely well – exceptionally well.

“We had more than 50 cars and we could have had more – some people decided to leave their cars at the school and get in other cars – most of the cars that actually took part were loaded up with supporters. That shows the depth of feeling and support.

“But this wasn’t just about the Somerset community. We were also very pleased with the reaction that we were given from people along the route – people walking down the street, people in other cars travelling towards us – we had a lot of support from them, from across the whole island.

“I think the message that was sent out on Saturday was that we have a great deal of support from the whole community.

“Initially I think the Government thought that this was a campaign run by me alone. I hope they now know that it’s not just me, I am not standing alone.

“It’s not just the Somerset community that supports us – it’s island-wide. People are aware of the significance that West End Primary has in our history.”

Ms Horton challenged David Burt to keep an earlier pledge that there would be further dialogue on the matter. She said: “We haven’t heard any response from the Government yet.

Ministry of Education response

“The Ministry of Education has conducted numerous meetings with the residents of Sandys during the parish primary school consultation held between December 2020 and June 2021.

“We have also continued to hold meetings throughout the island on education reform, most recently in Sandys on February 23, 2023, which members of the West End Warriors attended.

“The ministry continues to brief the public, including the West End Warriors, regarding the rationale for selecting the facility and grounds of Somerset Primary for the redevelopment to the Sandys Parish Primary School. When all told, the combined size of the Somerset Primary/Lagoon Park site is 1.269 acres larger than that of West End Primary

“During the parish primary consultation process, it was suggested by the Sandys residents that the new parish primary school be named West End Primary, a suggestion with which we completely agree.

“As the school has been in several other locations before its current one, this is a way of continuing the historic legacy of the school.

“While the West End Warriors and ministry agree with education reform and the parish primary concept, we currently do not agree on the final site of a new purpose-built and renovated parish primary school called West End Primary.

“West End is a respected school where Black people received their education because they could not attend Somerset Primary. For a generation that lived the experience, there are painful memories of segregation and being refused to attend a school based on skin colour and racism.

“For this generation and the next, we must do the hard work and make these sacrifices to improve public education.

“We cannot erase the past, but we can create a new vision and opportunity for all of Bermuda’s children based on equality and accessibility, not race.

“We are committed to advancing education reform with the unprecedented consultative process that has guided us to date. The Premier and minister have committed to meeting with the group, and that meeting is currently being planned.”

“Our next hope is for a town hall meeting. We attended one in Warwick last November and at that time the Premier promised that there would be another town hall meeting in Sandys, but we’ve heard nothing since – not a peep.

“But we’re going to stick at it. Initially we were told that this whole process may take five years, but we’re now hearing it may be seven to ten years, so hopefully time is on our side. Anything can happen.”

Primary schools facing closure

The Ministry of Education announced in July 2021 that eight primary schools will be closed under the reform plans.

The schools that were officially confirmed for closure are: St George's Preparatory School, St George’s; St David's Primary School, St George’s; Prospect Primary School, Devonshire; Northlands Primary School, Pembroke; Gilbert Institute, Paget; Heron Bay Primary School, Southampton; Port Royal Primary School, Southampton; and West End Primary School, Sandys.

Elliot Primary School was also on the original list of schools facing closure but a decision was made to save it following public consultation.

Purvis Primary and Francis Patton Primary will be the first primaries to formally relaunch as parish primary schools in September.

Defiant: former Education Permanent Secretary Ellen-Kate Horton (File photograph)

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Published March 21, 2023 at 8:12 pm (Updated March 21, 2023 at 8:12 pm)

Protesters campaigning to stop school closure say: ‘the fight goes on’

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