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Ministry of Education given until Friday to fix problems at Alma Parris Secondary

Pedro Shepherd and Richmark Cave.

Pedro Shepherd and Richmark Cave.

The Barbados Union of Teachers this afternoon placed the Ministry of Education on notice of possible industrial action when thousands of students head back to the classroom on Monday after nine weeks vacation. President Pedro Shepherd told them at a press conference to fix the problems at Alma Parris Secondary School by Friday or they might be hit with some form of action at the Major Walk, Speightstown, St. Peter school. Saying the ministry had all summer to resolve the issues such as time-tabling that had been plaguing the school for the last two years, the trade union boss said he “believe[s] that by Friday this week” teachers should know what is “coming in terms of resolution to their problems in terms of time-tabling, how the ministry intends to deal with this. “I believe by now the Oversight Committee should have reported to the ministry and I believe they are about to implement whatever [plans]. They had the entire summer and I’m saying that no teacher at Alma Parris should have to go through the weekend not knowing what is going to confront them on Monday,” he said. Failing this, the trade union leader said they would be at the school when the students return. “By Monday, I don’t think we’ll need the support of the BSTU. If it escalates into a more serious matter, then we might have to call on the sister union first and then the brother unions … but with we start with BUT members at Alma Parris and then move straight across the island. As time goes on we will see what is necessary,” he said Although Shepherd would not say what form that action will take, he told journalists that despite seeking to have the matters which include the “falling standards” of that institution addressed since 2011, they remain unresolved. “Last school year staff had to function without proper timetables and without being assigned to departments. In cases where some of them had timetables they were teaching children who were already assigned to another teacher at the same time. In effect, the timetable was riddled with clashes. “Teachers were asked to teach outside of their specialty which is not the norm in the secondary system and were assigned to departments which did not fit their qualification and/or training. “In the opinion of our members, discipline at the school was deteriorating beyond imagination and the staff felt threatened by their mere presence at the school. There were too many fights among students and our members felt that enough was not being done. “Communication between the principal and teaching staff was at an all-time low, sometimes non existent, and apparently is now by registered mail,” said Shepherd. Eight members of staff were present at the press conference which was held at the trade union’s Merryhill, Welches, St. Michael headquarters. What the president reiterated was the length of time it has taken to Ministry of Education to act even after several meetings. “Promises were made. We are still waiting for these promises to be kept. Though an oversight committee was set up September 2012 for one term by the Minister of Education, the union has not yet seen any report or recommendations from this committee. This was a three-man committee which also had as its secretary, the deputy chief education officer responsible for schools. What therefore was its mandate? “Our members have reported that though this committee facilitated greater communication, the core issues still remain despite their recommendations. And I want to state here that this matter predates me as the president of the Barbados Union of Teachers and so it is well known to all and sundry. “This evening I am not at liberty to say what was promised by the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation but suffice it to say that we did not expect the status quo at Alma Parris Secondary School to be there September 1, 2013. “The Barbados Union of Teachers is therefore calling upon the Ministry of Education to make good on its promises and settle post haste the issues at the Alma Parris Secondary School. “Communicate with the Barbados Union of Teachers. Our members have serious issues and are demanding their union to represent them and provide answers. They have endured, they have held strain, they have all exercised incredible patience and tolerance, and as such they should not be forced to return to an uncomfortable, uncertain environment. “Classes at the Alma Parris School should not be permitted to commence on September 9, 2013 with all these matters unresolved. “You would recall that I served notice in April of this year when I addressed the Annual Conference at Solidarity House when the Prime Minister delivered the feature address. The ministry therefore had sufficient time to act,” he said. Shepherd also spoke about the ministry “failing to act over a two-year period” on what was “a simple matter” which had “escalated into one of embarrassment”. “This matter relates to one member of the union who successfully completed the Associate Degree in Education at Erdiston Teachers Training College and who to date had not been reassigned. “This union’s position is quite clear and we are asking for her to be reassigned as a temporary teacher effective September 1, 2013. The error has been made and needs to be corrected now,” he said. “It is my hope that the Ministry of Education gets it right by September 9 and this young lady be reassigned to a school and the emphasis here is reassigned,” he asserted. (DS)

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