The proverbial axe is likely to fall at Combermere School after all.
However, the target is not the foul-smelling Acacia tree, which was recently cited by principal Vere Parris as the source of recent environmental problems at the Government-run institution, or which President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) Mary Redman believes should be chopped down.
Instead, the Ministry of Education has launched an offensive against the outspoken head of the school’s History Department, Anglican priest Reverend Charles Morris, who has been slapped with disciplinary charges.
The action stems from a recent interview he gave to Barbados TODAY in which he spoke publicly about the environmental problems currently being experienced at the school.
So offensive were those comments to top education officials that they have made Morris the lone subject of an internal investigation.
The senior teacher, who has been with Combermere for the past 34 years, has also been ordered to appear before
a disciplinary panel on March 22.
In a letter dated Friday, March 11, a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY, Morris is accused of “misconduct of a serious nature”.
The letter, signed by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education June Chandler and copied to the Combermere Principal as well as the Chief Personnel Officer, further accuses him of acting in breach of the Code of Conduct and Ethics, as set out in the second schedule of the Public Service Act, Cap 29, which specifically states at paragraph 24 9c that officers shall not “make a statement to the media or allow themselves to be interviewed on questions of public policy or on matters affecting the defence, military resources or diplomatic relations of Barbados without the prior approval of the Minister concerned”.
“I hereby request that you provide a written response to the allegation of misconduct,” said Chandler in her correspondence, which further revealed that a four-member panel, which also includes the Chief Education Officer, the Deputy Chief Education Officer in charge of schools and the Acting Senior Administrative Officer, would be responsible for adjudicating the matter.
When contacted today, a disappointed Morris, confirmed that he was in receipt of the Ministry’s letter, which he said was handed to him by a porter at the school earlier today.
However, while contending that “evil prevails when good men keep silent”, Morris was adamant that he was not guilty of any breach to the Public Service act.
As a teacher and a religious leader he also said he was duty bound to speak the truth, while asking, “Is it now public policy to have a dirty school?”
The Combermere teacher, who was diagnosed in December 2014 with throat cancer, and who has recently been suffering with headaches and sore throat, believes the school situation is partly to blame. And he was angry that no one from the ministry had seen it fit to even inquire about his health situation over the past 15 months.
“Nobody from the ministry ever called me to ask me if I had money to pay for all of this, nobody from the ministry called me to ask me how I was doing, nobody did these things [but] I must sit in silence and suffer?” he questioned.
However, Morris, who is now on sick leave until the end of the school term, also revealed that no fewer than 16 of 55 teachers at Combermere were away from school today, on the account of health challenges.
With the situation as it stands, Morris, who was previously cited with misconduct but said the earlier charges were never pursued, said he had no regrets about speaking out publicly, asking, “How can I keep quiet?”.
When contacted this evening, Redman said she was aware of the development.
“We are now dealing with it. The union will be addressing that. I have only had a cursory look at the letter and I now have to have an indepth look at it,” she told Barbados TODAY. firstname.lastname@example.org