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Somerset Primary threatens to draw politics card

Somerset Primary School faces closure after originally being selected as the parish primary school for Sandys (File photograph)

Attendees of a PTA meeting threatened to withdraw support for the Progressive Labour Party over the Government’s about-turn on its decision to close Somerset Primary School.

About 40 people were at the meeting on Tuesday. One parent accused the Government of using children as “political pawns”.

Somerset Primary was originally chosen by the Government as the parish primary school for Sandys but after protests over the decision, including from the pressure group West End Warriors, a rescoring exercise was launched.

With a history and legacy component added to the criteria and a review of the original scoring, the Government announced that Somerset Primary would eventually be closed, not West End Primary.

The Ministry of Education said yesterday that all schools had the opportunity to make submissions during the rescoring exercise and that it would post a report about the history and legacy element, as well as video submissions from schools on its website.

A spokeswoman said the ministry believed it had reached the right decision.

It was suggested at the meeting that both Sandys primary schools remain open – Somerset Primary, with Lagoon Park Preschool on the same property, could take the preschoolers and lower primary pupils, and West End Primary could take the upper primary pupils.

One parent wrote to David Burt, the Premier, Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, and Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, among others, calling for the plan to be implemented.

In a letter seen by The Royal Gazette, the parent wrote: “I was pretty shocked to find out recently that our school was on the chopping block as it only came to our attention recently that we would have to fight for our school to remain open.

“If I could illustrate this point, it felt as if both West End Primary and Somerset Primary were given an exam, but, at the eleventh hour, West End Primary was given extra credit questions and we were not.

“There was no time to address our position and, quite honestly, it seems as though shouting the loudest is the only way to get what one wants.”

Gregory Trott, whose daughter attends Somerset Primary, was at the PTA meeting and said: “Everything’s about votes. It’s a political game and we’re the pawns.

“I believe that we should not vote for anybody that’s in this area. Every seat should be taken [from the PLP].

“It’s disgusting for the Government to do this, to use our children as political pawns.”

Mr Trott said there was a lack of concern for parents and their children’s educational and social wellbeing.

PTA members said that Somerset Primary had better infrastructure and adaptability for the planned conversion, as well as the potential for growth and longevity.

Kristy Azofeifa-Villalobos, the PTA president and a teacher, said talks had included consideration about what action to take.

She revealed that the suggestion of retaining the two Sandys primary schools — with lower and upper classes split across them — was rejected.

“Apparently, from what I heard from the ministry, that was a thought discussed in the past and considered,” Ms Azofeifa-Villalobos said.

“At this time, we were told that it is only an idea which they could look at but we didn’t get any promises in terms of that being considered as an option.

“We thought that our already having a preschool sharing our field and being in proximity to Sandys [Secondary Middle School], which will be a signature school where many would go, we could have great synergy within the entire community.

“With the infrastructure already here, we believe it would be easier to manage the transition with the environment and teachers remaining the same.”

Asked if using the threat of withdrawing potential votes from the ruling PLP was an intended tactic, Ms Azofeifa-Villalobos indicated it was at the forefront of options being considered.

She said: “A lot of parents have feelings of betrayal and have lost faith in terms of how the decision was made in giving more scoring weight to legacy.

“They are determined to put up a fight and a ‘no’ vote is one way.”

Another parent, Michael Wolf-Duggan, spoke of his concern for the health and security of children when switching en masse to another school.

He said: “I understand the Government’s need to reduce costs and to reform the school.

“My concern is that throughout the whole of the reform process, there has been a lack of transparency.

“When they came to include the history and legacy of schools, they took weight away from the health and safety scores along with the current building conditions in order to get the percentage up relevant to former scoring.

“So they placed history and legacy over the health and safety of the children.”

The ministry spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Education is in the final stages of posting the school video submissions, including Somerset Primary, and the History and Legacy report.”

She added that the videos and report would be posted to www.moed.bm.

The spokeswoman said: "All schools had the opportunity to present submissions. The ministry has worked diligently to ensure that our decisions were fair and well-informed while remaining sensitive to the impact these outcomes have on all stakeholders.

“These decisions are not easy but we believe that we have arrived at the best decision for the future."

The Progressive Labour Party was also contacted for comment but none was received by the time of publication.

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Published June 14, 2024 at 11:09 am (Updated June 14, 2024 at 11:09 am)

Somerset Primary threatens to draw politics card

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