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Public relations gone wrong

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Education minister Diallo Rabain doesn’t have a prayer’s chance of convincing the West End Warriors that the Somerset Primary location should stand as the lone elementary institution in the west after reorganisation (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Sometimes what a person writes doesn’t reflect what a person actually means. I have certainly found myself in hot water when my words were not typed with enough care, were misinterpreted as something negative, or were simply twisted by someone trying to undermine the point I was making. So, when reading someone’s words, especially when you may not be able to fully gauge the tone of their intent, I recommend stepping back and pausing for reflection.

Such was the case on March 20 when I read the Ministry of Education’s public relations reply to the West End Warriors’ motorcade. More specifically, it was the closing paragraphs that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around:

An aerial view of West End Primary School and the surrounding property

“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.

On my first read of these paragraphs, there was something that just didn’t feel right. After my third read a couple days later, my eyebrows tilted in a manner reflecting anger and confusion. After the fifth reading over the weekend, there was just this sense of disbelief. You know, like, “Naaaaah, the PLP can’t be saying that.”

An aerial view of Somerset Primary School and the surrounding property

Maybe I’m just reading the paragraphs the wrong way, but after multiple readings I interpret them as a patronising and disingenuous attempt to tell seniors to get over the past. Weird, right? I mean, this is a political party that tries to deflect just about every controversy with an allegation of racism, after all.

Frankly, the education ministry’s insinuation that the West End Warriors are simply angry because they could not attend Somerset Primary is an insulting oversimplification. Although the school’s legacy is intrinsically tied to Bermuda’s history of racism, its legacy has far more to do with a strive for excellence than pain over not being able to attend Somerset Primary.

The crux of the matter is that a government that does more than pay convenient lip service to racism would not make decisions such as closing West End based on an evaluation matrix that excludes a school’s history. A government that genuinely desires to address inequality would not only have included school history in the evaluation matrix, it would also have applied a significant mathematical weight to it. Such a government would also have conducted a social impact study on closing West End before proposing such.

Imagine for one moment if the Government had come forward stating that it has met with community stakeholders, teachers, leaders, etc, and shared their feedback with educational professionals who fully understand the sociological impact of a school’s legacy on educational outcomes.

Now imagine if those professionals concluded that all of their research and analysis had shown that West End could be moved to Somerset Primary and retain all of the benefits derived from the school’s history.

Had the ministry used a comprehensive approach such as this, we would be all in a better place to make the best of a painfully complex situation. Unfortunately, instead of pausing to do the right thing, the ministry has continued to gaslight the public with statements such as:

“When all told, the combined size of the Somerset Primary/Lagoon Park site is 1.269 acres larger than that of West End Primary.”

What the ministry is not saying is that the actual primary school areas for both schools are practically identical. Somerset Primary is approximately 3.63 acres, and West End is approximately 3.59 acres.

The ministry has not stated that West End’s property is too small to accommodate a preschool. The ministry is glossing over that other proposed parish primary schools will not have an on-site preschool. Most importantly, the ministry has not set out the overriding educational benefits of having a preschool on the same plot of land as a primary school. Simply stating that Somerset Primary is the better choice because it has more land than West End is about as helpful as a salesman recommending that I buy size 46 pants when I really only need a 34in — OK, 36in after lunch.)

West End Primary’s roots are at least 150 years old, and according to the ministry’s own report, the school has formally existed for 76 years. Members of the West End Warriors recall moving to West End Primary’s present location on Scotts Hill in 1963. The ministry’s insinuation that a move to Somerset Primary would just be another move in West End Primary’s history dismisses that the school has been in the exact same location for 60 years!

Yes, this proposed move has a great deal to do with race, but it is not solely about race, as the ministry implied last week. This is a school that is located in the very heart of Somerset, within a safe walking distance of a high concentration of homes. It is synergistically located next to facilities, services and outdoor spaces that could maximise educational outcomes.

No, the pushback isn’t merely about hard feelings. The pushback is also about the Government forcing a community to accept a significant change to that community’s past, present and future, based on what appears to be a severely flawed methodology.

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Published March 31, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated March 30, 2023 at 2:38 pm)

Public relations gone wrong

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