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Give back our rights, BPTSA tells Government

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Harrington Sound School Meeting: Left to right- Eugene Johnson, Harry Matthie and West Pembroke PTA president Renee Dill. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Ministry of Education is seeking to wrestle control off parents even as potential school restructuring looms, according to the lawyer representing the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association.

Eugene Johnston told an urgent meeting called by the Harrington Sound Parent Teacher Association that the creation of Parent Councils by the Ministry effectively deprived parent-teacher associations (PTAs) of their right to be consulted.

“What they took away is the right that was obtained in 2012,” Mr Johnston told a gathering of about 80 people in Harrington Sound Primary School.

“And that was the right that every parent through their PTA, and the PTAs through their national body, is consulted about major decisions that concern children.”

Mr Johnston was referring to a legal battle three years ago that successfully blocked two principal transfers, with Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruling that PTAs had a right to take part in critical decisions affecting schools.

“You had a lot of rights,” Mr Johnston told the gathering. “But with the Parent Councils, there is no right to consultation.”

According to Mr Johnston, along with Harry Matthie, the chairman of the BPTSA, the new legislation has profound implications in light of plans to reorganise and possibly consolidate certain schools.

With the Act and the Education (Parent Council) Rules 2015, the Ministry of Education “has wrestled that control off a parent body”, Mr Johnston said.

“Why would they want to add a layer of bureaucracy? All of this came at the back of the school consolidation and reorganisation process. It’s still in train. And none of this Parent Council legislation gives you the right to oppose school consolidations and reorganisation before the decision is made.”

While Harrington Sound, a close-knit school of some 275 students, might seem secure in the face of a possible school shuffle, Mr Johnston said there was “a raft of schools who feel they might be on the chopping block.

“We say that you have the right to know about these matters before they implement them, that they should tell you what they propose to do, why they propose it, and tell you what other options they went through and why they excluded them.”

The BPTSA is seeking to challenge the parent council rules as unlawful. Mr Matthie called the new legislation “flawed, left, right and centre” and said the inclusion of a negative resolution procedure to change regulations means that the Minister of Education, Wayne Scott, could “change the rules whenever he wants. It means that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want,” Mr Matthie said. “We will be fighting this next year and the year after, hoping we can kill it, get the MPs to change the legislation, and give us back our rights.”

Meanwhile, about 20 parents gathered at CedarBridge Academy last night to hear about the progress of the Government’s SCORE Advisory Committee and have their say on how the Island’s public primary schools could be improved.

Romelle Warner, the committee’s chairwoman, told The Royal Gazette she was disappointed by the turnout, but said she hoped more would attend the second meeting this evening.

“People often feel more at ease in smaller groups and talk more openly, and tonight we have seen people very engaged, discussing and sharing ideas in a very calm way, and that is what we hoped to see,” she said. “We very much hope that more people turn up to the second meeting because everything that is said at these two meetings will be passed on to the ministry. Everyone’s voice is important when it comes to education and our children.”

The SCORE Advisory Committee has been tasked with gathering information about all the Island’s primary schools to determine “the feasibility of reorganisation, including the possibility of school closure”.

It will present its report to the Ministry of Education in the second week of December. “This committee is not a decision-making one, it is an advisory committee,” Ms Warner told the group.

“The data will enable all of us to have a better understanding of the present state of primary schools and allow the Minister to make informed decisions on what is best for our children.

“Ultimately, the changes that will be made must be about setting our young people on the path to becoming productive members of our community.”

Tonight’s SCORE Advisory Committee meeting will take place at the CedarBridge cafetorium from 6.30pm to 8pm

Harrington Sound School Meeting.(Photograph by Akil Simmons)
School Reorganisation Meeting: speaker Romelle Warner. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)