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Teachers’ sick-out forces school to close

Shut down: the principal of Harrington Sound Primary School was forced to close it after teachers called in sick yesterday (File photograph)

Harrington Sound Primary School was forced to close yesterday after teachers called in sick.

According to the Bermuda Union of Teachers, the unscheduled shutdown highlighted a shortage of substitutes that are drafted in to cover absences.

Parents were asked to collect their children from the school in Smith’s after the temporary closure was allowed by authorities.

In a message sent to parents and guardians, Cindy Weeks, the school’s principal said: “We have just received word from the Department of Education that the Harrington Sound Primary School has permission to close today.

“This [is] due to the number of teachers who are either out sick or on their personal leave.”

In her message to parents, Ms Weeks said that the school was expected to open as normal today.

She added: “However, communication will come before the day (Tuesday) is out to confirm.”

One parent said a sick-out by teachers had closed one of the largest government primary schools, adding: “Parents were not given notice until about 10.30am to collect their children and the school would need to close.”

The parent said it was believed to be in protest of a shortage of substitute teachers.

Dante Cooper, the BUT’s general secretary, confirmed teachers had ongoing concerns about a shortage of substitute teachers in the public school system.

He added the closure could have been avoided if more substitute teachers were on the books.

Mr Cooper said: “The current Department of Education protocols for substitute coverage are proving to be insufficient.

“Teachers are often left with no choice but to double up on classes, sometimes accommodating more than 25 students in a single classroom.

“According to our collective bargaining agreement, there should always be enough substitutes on the list to cover any shortage.

“Unfortunately, this requirement is not currently being met, and it is creating disruptions in teaching and learning and exacerbating the stress on our teachers.”

He added: “We are at a crossroads today, because no school should have to close due to a lack of substitute teachers, or be forced to operate under unsafe conditions.

“This outcome is avoidable with proper planning and adherence to our collective bargaining agreement.

“We urge the Department of Education to work collaboratively with us to ensure that our teachers and students receive the support they need to maintain a high-quality educational environment.

“We urge the department to re-evaluate its protocols for substitute coverage, and take immediate action to expand the list to include more qualified professionals.

“With all the incumbent stresses that come with being a professional educator already weighing down on teachers, not having the peace of mind that comes with knowing your students will be provided adequate coverage if you fall ill, is just too much.”

Mr Cooper said that experienced teachers were willing to sign up to the substitute list, but had been turned away by officials.

He said: “They are being informed that the list is full, yet there continues to be a significant shortage of substitute teachers; which compounds the pressure on our current teachers, and compromises their ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance, which is vital.

“Additionally, the lack of qualified substitutes means that support staff, who are not trained as teachers, are being asked to cover classes.

“This has a direct impact on students, who are losing valuable instruction time as a result.”

One educator, who does not work at Harrington Sound Primary School, backed up the union’s claims.

They said: “Teachers are overburdened and stretched and have been complaining for a while. They’re tired.”

The source added that issues were expected to continue while resources were put into education reform and staff were left “hanging”.

Ms Weeks declined to comment when contacted by The Royal Gazette this morning.

The Government has been contacted for comment.

UPDATE: this article has been updated to include comments from the Bermuda Union of Teachers

Principals’ work-to-rule resolved

A work-to-rule staged by principals in Bermuda’s public school system has ended with resolution.

The action was staged by 17 school principals over the recent signing of their union collective bargaining agreement, according to Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education.

A work-to-rule measure is viewed as a form of protest by employees who work according to the rules of the job without undertaking any extra duties.

Kevin Grant, the Bermuda Public Services Union general secretary, said: “I can confirm that this matter has been resolved and as a result, the school principals’ work-to-rule has been withdrawn.”

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Published May 07, 2024 at 1:22 pm (Updated May 08, 2024 at 7:44 am)

Teachers’ sick-out forces school to close

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