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Teacher’s complaints ignored, court told

Administrators at CedarBridge Academy “ignored” concerns and complaints voiced by a teacher, according to an expert on workplace bullying who took the stand during a civil trial yesterday.

Testifying via Skype, Jo Blase told the Supreme Court that the documents she had been given by former CedarBridge teacher Karen Clemons demonstrated the school had repeatedly dismissed her concerns about students’ behavioural issues.

“I found that as a teacher, your thoughts, needs and feelings were dismissed,” she said. “That you were ignored when you made complaints about the environment and students’ needs.

“Your complaints about student behaviour were not acknowledged, nor were you supported.”

However, under cross-examination, she conceded that the only documents she had read had been provided by the complainant, and she had not seen statements from key witnesses including CedarBridge principal Kalmar Richards.

Ms Clemons launched a legal action against the Ministry of Education, claiming she developed post-traumatic stress disorder from teaching at the Devonshire secondary school between 2000 and 2006.

On the first day of the civil case, Ms Clemons described her ordeal at CedarBridge as “death by 1,000 cuts”, complaining that concerns she raised about students being “dumped” into classes without consideration for their needs were ignored.

Ms Richards, however, defended the school’s reputation from the stand, saying that CedarBridge had adequately appraised the educational and behavioural needs of students in their class. As the trial resumed this week, Dr Blase told the court that she had looked at documents provided by Ms Clemons and produced a report of her findings.

She told the court that she found the administration had mistreated Ms Clemons by ignoring her concerns over several years, adding that such issues can bring mental and emotional harm to a teacher.

“There is no question it impacts the students because it affects the classroom,” she said. “Reports have found that there are destabilising effects on not only the classroom, but upon their personal lives, family and friends.”

However, under cross-examination by Norman MacDonald, representing the ministry, Dr Blase accepted she formed her opinion based only on documents provided by Ms Clemons and that she had not interviewed anyone. Asked if the additional documentation before the court would have provided her with a more complete picture, she agreed, but said she had enough evidence to form an opinion.

Mr MacDonald also questioned Dr Blase about positive reviews of Ms Clemons issued during her time at the school, asking if they would amount to positive reinforcement. She agreed, but when asked why the positive reports were not mentioned in her report she said they did not change her conclusion.

And she denied a claim that she was a “professional expert witness”, although she told the court she had been paid for her work producing her report and was receiving a “minimal” fee to testify.

Also taking the stand was Warren Jones, the former Permanent Secretary for Education. He told the court that when he assumed the post in November of 2010, Ms Clemons was working for the ministry at Sandys Secondary as a “mentor coach”.

However, he said the position was not a formal post, and a government mandate was issued preventing people from holding “positions that don’t exist”.

As a result he spoke with Ms Clemons about assuming a position as an allocated substitute, which would allow her to continue to work and not be made redundant. During that meeting, he accepted that Ms Clemons raised concerns about PTSD and anxiety issues, but said she accepted the position and, at the time, had not presented evidence she was suffering from PTSD.

Citing her transfer away from the classroom, Ms Clemons said: “I disclosed my situation as early as 2009. Back then you all were aware that I had an issue.”

Mr Jones responded: “During my time there was no documented supplementary evidence. I would say that the opportunity provided to you wasn’t based on your ailments but trying to find a role for you in the system.”

The trial continues.

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