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Ministry of Education breaking law over decisions, claims ex-teacher

A former teacher has charged that personnel decisions at the Ministry of Education, including transfers and terminations, have breached the law.

The educator said Permanent Secretary Warren Jones is acting outside his purview by “performing duties beyond his legal power and authority”.

Critics pointed to the Education Act, which appoints the Education Commissioner with responsibility over human resources.

Current Commissioner Wendy McDonell doesn't step down until the end of the month, a Ministry spokeswoman said yesterday.

However, documents shared with this newspaper included a recent redundancy notice signed by Mr Jones — who also took ownership for last month's rescinding of teacher transfers.

“He can't do that, by law,” the ex-teacher told The Royal Gazette, adding: “Wendy McDonell has abdicated a great deal of her roles and responsibilities.”

The source alleged: “Delegation of authority has to come from the Public Service Commission, and will only be temporary if the public officer is incapacitated, off the Island, and otherwise unable to perform their duties as they are identified by law.”

According to the Ministry spokeswoman, the requisite statutory Gazette notice has been prepared and approved by the Cabinet Secretary whenever Ms McDonell has been off the Island, and an Acting Appointment put in place.

The Ministry declined to clarify Mr Jones' role in tandem with the Commissioner's — but the former teacher who contacted this newspaper said that if Mr Jones' decisions were challenged in court, “the Ministry of Education would lose”.

“This could not happen without an amendment to the Education Act, 1996, that was changed and enacted after 2008.”

The delegation of authority goes back to early in Ms McDonell's tenure.

Then-Minister Dame Jennifer Smith announced in January of 2011 that the Commissioner would take charge of reforms within the public education system, while the Permanent Secretary would assume responsibility for “the day-to-day running of the Ministry”.

Teacher transfers have been challenged successfully in the Island's courts — but that case, settled by Chief Justice Ian Kawaley in August, 2012, was based on the Ministry's “promise to engage parents and the community in the running of public schools” rather than any challenge to the Ministry hierarchy.

The situation acquired a new twist yesterday when Shadow Minister Walton Brown spoke of his “concern over the lack of consistency in dealing with teacher transfers”, adding: “I understand that some teacher transfers will still take place as originally planned.”

This came in spite of the earlier statement from the Ministry that all transfers had been revoked, Mr Brown said.

“This inconsistency in the application of decisions designed to improve the delivery of public education has only caused further unease among teachers and a diminution of trust. It is imperative that the development of a framework for making these decisions across all levels of the public school system is acted upon immediately.”

Contacted by this newspaper, the Progressive Labour Party MP said issues within the Ministry were “nothing to make political hay out of”.

However, Mr Brown said: “I've confirmed that there are teachers who are still being moved. I believe some are voluntary and some are involuntary.”

There was no response from Government last night.

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Published August 20, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated August 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm)

Ministry of Education breaking law over decisions, claims ex-teacher

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