The two-day meeting between teachers of Grantley Adams Memorial School and the Ministry of Education to discuss security concerns at the St Joseph learning institution, broke down today after the teachers walked out in protest.
At issue was the ministry’s decision to bar the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) from the talks for the second straight day.
The series of meetings began yesterday at the prompting of the BSTU following a stabbing at the school, which left four students nursing injuries.
The union said in a release this afternoon that having been unhappy with its omission yesterday, the teachers invited the BSTU to today’s talks, only for the union’s officials to be thrown out.
BSTU President Mary Redman said today’s drama began when the assistant general secretary was “summoned outside and told that the union was not invited, and further that they did not want the union’s presence on the school compound”.
“He was ushered to the gates,” Redman said.
“When I arrived I saw him and the public relations officer outside the school gates and was told the same by the security guard. We waited outside of the school gates and our first vice president, who is a teacher there, indicated to the ministry’s panel that the union officers, including the president, were at the gates and that the staff wanted them to join the meeting. This was denied and so she left the meeting along with the other shop stewards and some other members of the BSTU. Some other teachers, who are not our members, and some members of the BUT [Barbados Union of Teachers] also left the meeting prematurely and left the school compound. So too did one or two of our members who stated that they were too emotionally distraught to stay. One was headed for the doctor,” the union leader said.
The issue came up at a news conference this morning, at which Minister of Education Ronald Jones, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Harry Husbands, Permanent Secretary June Chandler and Chief Education Officer Karen Best addressed concerns about school violence.
It was the latest incident – a stabbing on Tuesday at Grantley Adams Memorial School, which resulted in injuries to four students, that triggered the meetings.
However, Jones accused the BSTU of showing up to the talks “willy nilly”, without an invitation.
“I would encourage that rather than persons just turning up willy nilly at a school that nobody just walks off the street and walks into a private sector organization. Somehow people believe that they hear an accident happen at the school and they just walk onto the school. We are not encouraging that. No, not at all,” the minister said.
“We don’t just walk off the street and come to your workplace and bother anybody. We cannot encourage that because it leads to the further breakdown of the respect that we all need. It is not because we are called public they can do that. When it is a private school they call first and speak to the principal, but somehow people believe that we are called public and they can just show up. It is protected space,” Jones stressed.
The meetings were held at the BSTU’s prompting after the teachers threatened to stay away from the classroom until the ministry agreed to talks to discuss their safety.
Redman said this made the decision to throw out the union even more perplexing.
“While the BSTU understands and appreciates the right of the employer to meet with employees, the union believes that because of the grievous nature of these particular circumstances at the Grantley Adams school, because of the fact that the union wrote and demanded such a meeting, and because the union is aware of the fact of the consultative nature and approach of the interventions that will be necessary to address this serious problem, we find it incomprehensible that the Ministry of Education has barred the union from attending the meetings,” she said, adding that precedent had been set when meetings were held last year with teachers of St George Secondary School, with the union present.
“With the precedent of how we had operated at St George Secondary where we acted in a similar manner, demanded similar meetings and were invited along with the staff, we envisaged that the same modus operandi on the ministry’s part would apply in this instance and that we would be in attendance at the relevant meeting,” the BSTU boss explained.