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Parent councils will be of benefit – Evans

Delroy Duncan, left, of Trott and Duncan, representing the Ministry of Education and, right, acting education commissioner Dr Freddie Evans (photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Public schools will benefit from extra advantages if they opt to form parent councils but they will not lose existing rights, according to the acting commissioner of education Dr Freddie Evans.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette as the Department of Education undertakes its information sessions about the formation of the new councils, Dr Evans insisted that parent councils are not designed to replace existing PTAs, unless that is so desired. He said no school was obliged to form a council but if they did so, the council can either replace a PTA or work alongside a PTA within any given public school.

Chairman of the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association Harry Matthie has questioned the need for parent councils, insisting that existing PTAs should merely be given the powers given to councils, which include a legal obligation on the part of the Bermuda Government to consult with them and take recommendations.

Mr Matthie said: “I have asked the ministry to show me the legislation that prevents principals sharing any information like budget information with the PTA.

“If there is no legislation preventing it, then they are not really giving you anything by introducing parent councils.”

But Dr Evans told The Royal Gazette: “We don’t want anyone to feel coerced into creating a parent council but there are some key differences between councils and PTAs.

“I do want to dispel the notion there is a disadvantage to not forming a parent council but a school would not be taking advantage of the opportunities that are now before us.

“With the formation of legislation we have, for the first time, created a two-way communication between the ministry and the schools as it pertains to school improvement plans, as it pertains to the budget … and, which I think highly important, as it pertains to student achievement.

“Before, PTAs have not had that opportunity. They might learn about the school improvement plan or the budget from their principal or they might not.”

The Minister of Education Wayne Scott added: “Parent councils create a legal obligation on the ministry and DoE.

“Parent councils will receive information in a proactive way to help them carry out specific responsibilities under legislation.”

Dr Evans said he has been frequently asked why the Bermuda Government did not just legislate for PTAs to be changed to which he said: “Fundamentally, I think that would be wrong. PTAs exist and are charities that belong to the schools and for us to come in and legislate would probably have gotten everybody’s back up.”

Parents have until October 15 to decide whether to form a parent council in their child’s school for this school year.

Opportunities to create councils will come with each new school year. Under the Education Amendment Act 2015, while the ministry must take recommendations, the buck ultimately lies with the ministry.

Dr Evans explained: “I don’t want to give the impression that representations made won’t be considered because that’s the whole reason we are developing the process. We need the parental input, it is very valuable to us, the decisions we make will have to consider what has been suggested.”

Senior policy analyst for the ministry Kimberley McKeown added: “Parent councils are advisory bodies.

“We are working within a government framework so something like the budget at the end of the day is left up to the legislator — even, for example, for the qualities and competencies of the principals, but the ultimate decision is for the public service commission and for the governor to sign off on.

“We had to design something within the parameters of the Civil Service that we work in.”

The ministry has offered training and support to help parents form the new councils and Mr Matthie has questioned why this service was not previously offered to PTAs.

Ms McKeown said the support is designed specifically to inform parents on the formation of the new bodies.

“It is so they understand the rules and their responsibilities, how can we support them to fulfil their responsibilities under the legislation.”