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Dunkley takes flak for schools decision

Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley once again defended his eleventh-hour decision to open public schools after Tropical Storm Gabrielle had brushed past the Island.

On Tuesday evening, as Gabrielle made her approach, Government issued a public statement saying that, on the recommendation of the Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO), schools would be closed the following day.

But early on Wednesday morning it was discovered that the weather system was not as strong as first feared, and had failed to inflict any serious damage. As a result, Government issued a second statement reversing its earlier decision and said that schools would in fact be open as usual for the day.

In Friday's House of Assembly, Opposition MPs questioned Mr Dunkley's leadership and said that the reversal had caused confusion among parents.

Shadow Finance Minister David Burt described it as “a flip-flop of epic proportions” while Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson said her own two children had been “schizophrenic”, on Wednesday morning — not knowing whether they would have to go to school or not.

She also pointed out that some parents had needlessly lost a day's wages, believing that they would have to take a day off work to attend to their children at home.

Walter Roban called the schools decision reversal “a doozy”, telling MPs he'd chaired the EMO three times and knew how it worked.

“That confusion did not affect just a few people, but hundreds,” he said. “The country was sent into confusion not by the weather, but by the decisions of certain people.”

Suggesting there had been meddling in the EMO, Mr Roban continued: “It does appear that perhaps some Ministerial interference, perhaps from Mr Dunkley himself or another Minister, messed up how the process should go. Or perhaps at some point, Mr Dunkley as the chairman will provide the country with more clarity.”

And Opposition leader Marc Bean said that, once the original decision had been made, Mr Dunkley, who is also chairman of the EMO, should have stood by it. Mr Bean added that the last-minute reversal caused a great deal of confusion.

But Mr Dunkley hit back, saying that both decisions had been the right ones at the time.

He said that the safety of children was paramount, which was why the decision to close schools was made on Tuesday evening. He pointed out that there were fears Gabrielle could bring down overgrown vegetation onto roads, making journeys into schools hazardous.

He added that he and other Government staff reviewed the situation as early as 5am on Wednesday, when it was realised that the danger had passed and that roads were safe.

“The most important thing for us to do was to err on the side of caution,” he said.

Dismissing Mr Bean's claim that sticking to a decision was a sign of leadership, Mr Dunkley said that he felt it important to continually review decisions as circumstances changed.

“It would have been easy to do nothing once that decision had been made, but the right thing to do was to open up those schools,” he said.

“I will always put safety ahead of inconvenience — every time.”

Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley

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Published September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 15, 2013 at 11:59 pm)

Dunkley takes flak for schools decision

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