Get your facts right, David Comissiong!
That was President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman’s response to criticism by social activist David Comissiong of a call by her union and the Barbados Union of Teachers’ (BUT) for the expulsion of a student accused of assaulting a teacher at Ellerslie Secondary School.
In a press release to the media, the full text of which appears today in his weekly Barbados TODAY column, Comissiong said the unions were “completely wrong in publicly demanding the expulsion” of the 14-year-old student.
“The leaders of the BSTU and BUT are wrong because, under the Laws of Barbados, a legal process has been established for dealing with cases in which students of public schools are charged with committing serious breaches of discipline . . . and that legal process must be permitted to run its course without outside pressure, intimidation and threats being brought to bear on the persons and institutions charged with administering the process and adjudicating the matter,” he wrote.
However, Redman has fired back with a stinging retort aimed not only at the attorney-at-law, but seemingly at child rights advocate Shelly Ross and Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss, who on Sunday night criticized the unions for scheduling a meeting last Friday afternoon and their demand that Minister of Education Ronald Jones meets them this week or face possible consequences.
The BSTU head told Barbados TODAY in an interview yesterday that Comissiong’s comments demonstrated “a disconnect and lack of willingness” by Government officials and others “who project themselves as social commentators and children advocates” to become familiar with the facts before commenting on issues on which they were “either genuinely ignorant, or willing to selfishly disport and use as political or personal mileage” in an attempt to fulfil their own agendas.
The union boss said as a lawyer, Comissiong ought to be embarrassed because he displayed a disconnect and ignorance of existing laws, and that neither of the two unions had asked for a process to be followed that was contrary to the law.
She reminded the social activist that the recommendation for expulsion came from the ministry’s code of student discipline from the existing Education Regulations Act that has been in place since 1992, and of which “Mr Comissiong seems unaware”.
“The law that he is quoting has been outdated since 1992. First of all he is referring to a head teacher and that position has not existed for about two decades in our school system. It is principal. And then he is saying the board does not have the power to expel and that again is old legislation changed since on or about 1992,” she insisted.
Redman quoted Section 29 13B of the Education Regulations to support her argument that the board had the power to expel any pupil.
She accused Comissiong of being “in such a haste to let his arrows fly at the union” while seeking political mileage that he failed to check what was current and applicable in the relevant and existing legislation.
However, Comissiong issued a second press release today, defending his position.
“I have news for Ms Mary Redman,” the release began, before going on to state that the amendments to which the BSTU leader referred did not deter from the fact that the unions were wrong to call for the student’s expulsion.
He listed the process outlined in the amended regulation, including the section which states that the principal “may suspend the pupil from the school” for up to ten school days and, having suspended the student, who the principal must notify.
He also highlighted the sections that refer to the process involved in expelling a pupil and the course of action available to parents.
“So, under the regulation as originally worded, as well as in its amended formulation, there is a clearly stipulated process that the student is entitled to have applied to her in a fair and impartial manner,” Comissiong said in the release.
He reiterated the position expressed in the first release that the heads of both unions ought to have called “for the disciplinary process to be expedited”, instead of their demands to expel the child.
This, Comissiong argued, was not only wrong but is also subversive of the laws of Barbados and of the child’s right to a fair and just disciplinary process.
“How my expression of such an opinion makes me anti-trade union is really beyond me. I am merely trying to offer advice that could possibly help to ensure that the two trade unions do not go down the wrong path in relation to this matter,” he emphasized.