BSTU: school dispute not yet resolved

by Roy R. Morris and Donna Sealy

Government’s solution to the Alexandra School’s problems has rekindled the contention and controversy it intended to resolve.

President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, Mary Redman greets Sir Roy at Solidarity House.

This evening after a meeting with education officials was “terminated”, President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, Mary Redman, said she planned to speak out tomorrow about the shifting of 18 Alexandra teachers at the start of the new school term on Monday.

She told Barbados TODAY that the transfer of the teachers from the tension-plagued Speightstown, St. Peter school at this juncture in the academic year was “disruptive”, “horrendous” and showed that “no real thought has gone into these unprecedented transfers”.

“The scale and magnitude of this problem is horrendous and when I have the chance to quantify tonight I will make it known to the public of Barbados tomorrow the extent to which this action will be disruptive to hundreds, if not thousands of students, most especially those fifth form and CAPE (Sixth Form) students,” Redman said.

She also said that she did not foresee the union would have found itself in this position at the start of another year.

“I thought that finally common sense would have prevailed, There was a commission of enquiry held, the recommendations were clear and one would have thought that the actions that had to be taken by the appropriate public officers would have been taken, and taken in the way that … this was not expected because it is not in keeping with anything that would have been sane or rational,” she noted.

The trade union leader was speaking to Barbados TODAY after a meeting with the Acting Permanent Secretary, Sarah Brathwaite, Chief Education Officer Laurie King, Deputy Chief Education Officer (Schools) Karen Best and other officers, was “terminated”.

‘PS objects’

Mary Redman, BSTU attorney Hal Gollop and union consultant Patrick Frost.

“We [BSTU delegation] attempted to have a meeting with the PS that was scheduled for this evening at 5. She however, objected to the presence of our legal counsel [Hal Gollop], who was there to provide counsel and advice and she has stated she refuses to meet with us under those circumstances.

“Certainly we have the right to avail ourselves of legal counsel and to appear at any meeting with legal counsel. There’s no organisation, institution, department in Barbados that can determine a union’s delegation and therefore we had the legal right to do.

“We have since attempted to deliver a letter explaining that we have no objection, we certainly cannot, to the ministry having a legal representative at the meeting this evening, that we would like to continue the meeting but we are going to continue the meeting with our counsel present and they have the right to do the same. They have not taken our letter,” she stated.

Redman said she was told the “PS was about to start a second meeting and therefore the officer did not take the letter in to [her]”.

Tensions mount

That meeting followed “a very emotional” one that started around 2 p.m. with their Alexandra School members and other teachers at the Hugh Springer Auditorium at Barbados Workers’ Union headquarters.

Among those attending were Amaida Greaves, Leslie Lett, Gail Streat-Jules, Debra Springer-Bryan, all heads of department, who have received letters indicating they were being transferred to other schools.

They were also among the BSTU’s delegation at the 5 p.m. meeting.

Transferred Alexandra teacher Leslie Lett and colleagues chatting with Patrick Frost.

Redman had earlier said that meeting was an “information-gathering exercise” and was “to equip ourselves with the kind of data and general information that we will need to have meetings with officials in the Ministry of Education and other places as the need arises, to bring a speedy resolution to this development”.

Tonight, about that meeting she said, the “vast majority” of people who attended were teaching for more than 20 years at their schools. She added that many of them were involved in a number of extra curricular activities from which they are being transferred inclusive of literary and debating societies, art exhibitions, and coaching which would be disrupted as a result.

Barbados TODAY has also learnt that Industrial Arts teacher at Princess Margaret Secondary School Ronald Jordan, who publicly on Friday complained bitterly about being shifted to Alexandra as he was not part of the “Alexandra problem” and called for action to be taken against the top officials in the Ministry of Education, was summoned to a meeting at the ministry with Chief Education Officer Laurie King.

He attended the meeting alone.

Members of BAPPSS’ Executive Committee, headed by President Vere Parris, also met with ministry officials this morning at their Constitution Road offices.

And it was after 11 a.m. today that Principal Jeff Broomes, wearing a blue polo shirt and a pair of blue jeans, went to the Ministry of Education to collect his letter of transfer but left after about 30 minutes without it.

He returned later, accompanied by General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers, Dennis Clarke, about 1:15 p.m.

Barbados TODAY understands that he met briefly with Brathwaite, King and Best.

Clarke later told Barbados TODAY that now that Broomes had received the letter, he would comment later.

“We now have to sit down and analyse it and take it from there. We will then pass it to the lawyers …,” he said.

President of the Barbados Union of Teachers Pedro Shepherd, Vice-President Richmark Cave, General Secretary Herbert Gittens and Stewards’ Secretary Andrea Puckering, were the union’s delegation who met with ministry officials about 6 p.m.

Thirty minutes later, they emerged and Shepherd told this newspaper that “we discussed the transfers to and from Alexandra School”.

“We represented the interest of the BUT members who would have written to [us] asking for representation and we were satisfied our concerns will be addressed. We will simply await the outcome of any further discussion between the BUT and the Ministry of Education,” Shepherd said.

He added they were representing a number of teachers in the transfers and noted that seven members had written to them.

Meanwhile, Queen’s Counsel Vernon Smith, noted they were even more satisfied, given their continued research, that Broomes had an exceptionally strong case, but reiterated his earlier position to Barbados TODAY that they would act responsibly, giving the two unions that represent Broomes the opportunity to deal with the “industrial or trade dispute” which has arisen because of the principal’s transfer.

Contact, he said, would be made with the chief personnel officer and the chief education officer seeking urgent meetings, so it can be pointed out to them where they have gone wrong.

“If it is necessary we will seek the assistance of the court in pointing out to them where they have gone wrong,” Smith said.


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