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Teachers also to blame

by Shawn Cumberbatch

Teachers whose industrial action helped prompt the ongoing Commission of Enquiry into the Alexandra School must shoulder some of the blame for the breakdown at the St. Peter institution.

That admission came today from one of those who went on strike in January this year, senior teacher Sophia Ifill.

But the Alexandra old scholar, who has taught Physical Education there for the past 20 years, said Principal Jeff Broomes deserved most of the blame, and that it should be also be shared by the school’s board of management and the Ministry of Education.

Ifill was the latest witness to testify at the commission, when it reconvened today at the Wildey Gymnasium, Garfield Sobers Sports Complex. Her apportioning of blame to the teachers came while she was being examined by attorney-at-law Hal Gollop, counsel for her bargaining agent the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union.

“I would blame them (the teachers) because if they had spoken out sooner maybe things would have been different earlier, so we all contributed in some way,” she said.

“I would blame the teachers right now for keeping things quiet among ourselves. Let me explain why I said that; when things started for some of the other teachers they kept it among themselves in their little groups and they cried over it there, they talked about it there, some people would have had tears when they were unhappy and cried.

“If more of us at that time had taken concern for our fellow staff members and asked questions as to what was going on with them then maybe some of what happened to us later down would not have happened. We would have spoken sooner, we would have rallied together from earlier and saved more of us from suffering,” she added.

Ifill suggested many of the mainly female and senior staff at the school “were products of our upbringing at the Alexandra School where we were taught to be ladies and not question certain things and follow and tow the line”. She said teachers only withdrew their labour after becoming frustrated that in their opinion nothing was being done about their plight.

“In the past the other staff members had withdrawn labour for shorter periods, they were promised (by the ministry) that things would be dealt with, they were asked to return to work while things were being investigated, we went to meetings, things broke down, decisions and solutions were not forthcoming and the abuse and the problems and the victimisation continued,” she said.

Ifill blamed the board too, saying issues brought to its attention were not even acknowledged.

“From my side of it I would have brought issues to their attention in writing, they did not acknowledge the earlier correspondence. Of all the letters I have sent to the board from 2010 or thereabout I have only received one reply and that was on the last matter where Mr. (Roger) Broomes insulted me in front of the students this year,” she said.

“In backing off in my opinion if you see correspondence common courtesy for me would have been at least to reply in writing to say we have acknowledged receipt of your documents, even if you did nothing after that at least I have something to say you have my document.”

She also said she had never been called by the Ministry of Education “to account for matters”.

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