Teachers’ union: schools unfit for purpose

The Bermuda Union of Teachers has expressed “grave concerns“ over public schools facing delays in the new academic year.

Dante Cooper, the general secretary, issued a letter to the media yesterday calling for “a thorough and immediate assessment of leadership in the public education system” and reiterated two previous votes of no confidence in Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education.

The Education Reform Unit has also been involved in the Government’s parish primary school plan under the direction of Lisa DeSilva.

The letter said as recently as September 7, when the union visited them, some classrooms were still undergoing renovation works and were unsafe, and teacher contracts have been delayed.

It added that there have been last-minute curriculum and assessment delays, and that there are facilities issues including non-functioning bathrooms and “filthy” classrooms.

Furthermore, it cited a “concerning trend” of teachers and students leaving the public education system because of continuing operational challenges.

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, has said it is proud of the work undertaken but said it is important to note the reform of the primary schools has been “a mammoth task”. He said Department of Education back-to-school protocols would be assessed with changes supported by the ministry.

He added that at no time has heavy construction prevented students from being in the classroom.

The union, which visited several schools last week to assess their readiness, said that hundreds of teachers had been working during their summer holiday attempting to help prepare the classrooms in time for opening yesterday.

The union said in a letter dated yesterday: “Many classrooms, as of yesterday, were still undergoing rewiring work, with exposed electrical wires. Some classrooms have incomplete floors, broken windows, untreated walls and other unfinished construction work in progress.

“Shockingly, one classroom had ongoing asbestos abatement when teachers returned to work, exposing our educators to potentially hazardous conditions and jeopardising their health and safety.

“Dozens of teachers are left in a state of uncertainty, anxiously awaiting their employment contracts, which they should have received on or before September 1.

“On September 7, principals received a letter from the Director of Academics informing them that teachers in lower primary at specific schools will be required to adjust by September 11 to teach a stage lower than their current year level.

“This short notice is unprofessional and unacceptable. It’s important to note that this change will not be consistent across the entire system, potentially causing misalignment for students who have transferred schools this year.”

Purvis Primary School, one of the first two primary schools to move to the new parish primary school model under education reform plans, was highlighted as facing “dire conditions”.

These included non-functioning bathrooms, electrical issues, unclean classrooms, excessive dust, missing screen windows, rooms without ceilings and missing furniture.

However, the PTA president at the school issued a letter to parents, seen by this newspaper, telling them the school was in “fantastic shape”. It said: “The recent upgrades have given the school a fresh and vibrant appearance. There are no concerns regarding electricity, water or internet connectivity. I can confidently say that the school is safe, and it most certainly does not resemble a chaotic construction site.”

The PTA president said that he had been told if parents are not comfortable sending their children to the school during the first week, they could remain at home.

The parent of a student at Purvis said the letter had upset parents and insisted that the school was not ready.

The parent told The Royal Gazette: “The Commissioner of Education would never have agreed to let the teachers have extra time if the school was in fantastic shape. It is far from it. The school was not ready, there were major things going on with electricians, truckers, furniture being delivered and assembled on Friday. There was no way teachers could have been ready and prepared to receive students properly today.

“Children look forward to three days of the year — their birthday, Christmas and the first day of school. I feel that the students did not receive the first day of school they deserve.”

Mr Rabain said in a statement last night: “This issue has arisen because the rooms at Purvis need to be prepared and decorated by the teachers, and they’ve asked that their collective bargaining agreement be adhered to.

“It was decided during conversations between the Department of Education and the BUT and the staff at Purvis last Friday that this week would enable the students to come to the school be checked in and then they would be doing off-campus activities for the rest of the week while teachers had the opportunity to prepare their rooms and get them ready for students. The P1 classrooms are ready to accept their students and they will remain on campus for the week.

“Today, Purvis held their assembly at St Mary’s Church and not in their hall. The floors in the assembly all were refinished in advance of September 11. However, there was still a lingering smell within the hall.

“It was decided that although the hall had been aired out all weekend, it would be best not to have the children inside the assembly all and instead conduct the assembly in the church as they are one of the school’s community partners.”

The union’s letter added: “Ongoing construction at these schools has stolen our teachers’ preparation time for classrooms and lesson planning.

“For the Commissioner of Education to be aware of these conditions before teachers’ arrival is either a sheer display of ignorance or a deliberate breach of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1982.”

The union spoke of a “mass exodus” of teachers and students to private schools which was diminishing the diverse and inclusive character of public education.

It said: “This exodus is directly linked to ongoing operational challenges, education reform and the current leadership’s approach.”

The letter concluded: “Historically, the Department of Education has struggled to prepare adequately for school reopenings.

“This year, the level of unpreparedness is unprecedented. Our educators, students and parents deserve better. This recurring issue underscores the urgent need for improved interdepartmental collaboration …

“Together, we can advocate for change, transparency and a renewed commitment to quality public education in Bermuda.”

Mr Rabain added: “Although we were not perfect in all aspects, all of our students were accommodated today and I want to thank everyone that helped to get this school year off to a good start.

“Along with education reform, we will review the readiness protocols and how information is provided by the Department of Education moving forward. The ministry will provide the support needed by the department to improve upon this process.”

Source: royalgazette

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