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Union leader fears schools could face chaos

Schools face “utter chaos” at the start of term if an attempt to block teacher transfers succeeds, according to union leader Mike Charles.

The Royal Gazette understands the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association has filed an injunction to challenge the Ministry of Education's proposal for principal transfers involving at least six primary schools for the beginning of the 2015/16 school year. The injunction also aims to prevent any movement on school closures and consolidations, and the enactment of new parent council rules.

It is understood the association is challenging the ministry's decisions on the basis that proper consultation was not carried out.

Responding yesterday, Mr Charles told this newspaper: “Why did they wait until this time? School will start in utter chaos — this is what will happen.

“It would be chaotic if the court is to uphold this injunction simply because you have teachers with letters in their hands instructing them where to report in just over a week.

“Where would people go if the injunction is upheld? Where would they report and what would happen to the system?

“These transfers were announced before the end of school, why did they wait until this time? I don't know if they were asleep.

“It baffles me as to the timing of it and what really it could cause. You have to wonder whether or not they have the best interests of the schools at heart. If they say they are doing it for a better school system then what is going to happen on September 1 or 8 when school begins?”

Earlier this summer, principal transfers were announced for Prospect Primary, Port Royal Primary, Heron Bay Primary, West End Primary, Paget Primary and East End Primary. Meanwhile Clearwater Middle School is to undergo six changes, including the principal and vice principal.

In June, Harry Matthie, the chairman of the BPTSA, wrote to members claiming the Bermuda Government came “nothing near” to the consultation it is required to conduct before making decisions on personnel transfers.

Parents were given more say in the reform of public schools by the Education Amendment Act 2015, following a landmark ruling in 2012 that overturned the ministry's attempt to transfer two principals against the wishes of students and parents.

Commenting yesterday, Becky Ausenda, director of the Bermuda Education Network, said: “This injunction should be thrown out — the original case was referring to involuntary transfers. These are voluntary transfers. To my knowledge, the BPTSA has not consulted with any schools apart from Clearwater. They are also not the national PTA.

“People in the Department of Education have made good choices and decisions regarding these transfers. It's going to make a lot of people very angry if the BPTSA manage to create a delay on an action that can have a positive impact on Bermuda's schools.

“The community should recognise that we can't have it both ways — we can't complain that the Department of Education does not take enough action to improve our schools, and then start screaming if they do. This inconveniences our own children.

“We can't try to protect the status quo if we really want to see improvement in our schools.”

Addressing the issue of school closures and consolidations — planned by the ministry for the preschool and primary school system — Mr Charles added: “The school closures and consolidation is something that can be discussed down the road that is not effecting the opening of school in September. That is something we can all engage in as we go forward.”

The new rules being introduced for government schools regarding the establishment of parent councils will take effect September 15. The process asks for three parents at the school to establish a provisional council who then call a meeting of all parents to vote on whether a parent council should be established. The parent council replaces the PTA as the body to be consulted on school governance issues.

Mr Matthie did not respond to our questions by press time. The Ministry of Education declined to comment last night.

Mike Charles

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Published August 21, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 21, 2015 at 1:46 am)

Union leader fears schools could face chaos

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