Some 20 teachers of the Springer Memorial School called in sick on Tuesday – a week after the simulation fiasco that sparked mass panic and criticism of education authorities – but the island’s two teachers’ unions have distanced themselves from any sick-out action.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) , which share membership from an average roll of 60 teachers, said they did not sanction any industrial action at the Government Hill, St Michael school.
BUT General Secretary Herbert Gittens described the number of teachers who reported ill on the same day as unusual, considering that most secondary schools have a complement of about 60 to 70 teachers.
There were reports that the apparent sick-out was in protest against last Wednesday’s lockdown simulation that went wrong, triggering panic and trauma among some students when a group of armed masked men in black appeared on campus.
Both unions came out broadly in support of the security measure last week.
“The BSTU is not involved in any way, in any type of industrial action at the Springer Memorial School,” union president Mary-Anne Redman told Barbados TODAY.
“I was made aware of the absences earlier this morning by some members at the school who were not part of the action. I really don’t know what the action is about…. I really don’t know what is motivating the action.
“I can’t say if any BSTU members are involved in the action…but somehow I doubt it because I would expect that BSTU members would know that there are certain procedures in taking industrial action, and the union would certainly have to be part and parcel in terms of knowledge of, and guidance in any such action…and we had no knowledge whatsoever.”
Redman said her union’s main concern “in this ongoing matter” is to support the staff and students of the school.
“We are involved in further analysing where mistakes and missteps in the simulation process occurred and seeking to have those addressed in relation to any future simulations and drills at any other schools in the island,” the BSTU head said.
Redman said her union was also concerned with the emotional and psychological well-being of the staff and students and is offering support in this regard.
She said: “As a union, we would truly be appreciative if the staff and students are left to address this issue with the help of professionals who can assist. They must not be used to further the agendas of any individuals or groups in the society.
“The school needs time to settle and heal. We believe it would work in the best interests of students and teachers if that were allowed to happen.”
BUT General Secretary Gittens also said he had no idea why the teachers were absent from school.
He said when teachers are absent it is generally due to illness and suggested that it may just be coincidental that the large number called in sick at once.
However, when pressed by Barbados TODAY, he acknowledged that the number of absentees was unusual and “an unmanageable kind of situation”.
Gittens also said he did not know if any BUT members were among those reporting sick, but said none of them raised the question of industrial action during a meeting the day before.
“We had a meeting on Monday with staff to discuss mainly what happened at the school on Wednesday with the simulation, and that is all that was discussed. We did not call any industrial action…[because] if we [had] called action…there is nothing to hide,” the BUT leader said.
“The teachers did not even ask or suggest that we take any industrial action of that sort [during the meeting]. But in terms of the 27 members, I can’t tell you if any of them reported sick.”
Principal Cheryl Gill, Minister of Education Kay McConney and Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw have apologised for the fall-out from the drill in which masked men brandishing fake guns and cutlasses stormed the school in a simulation intended to test readiness in case of an actual armed intrusion.
The chief education officer acknowledged things could have been done differently and promised to put measures in place to avoid a repeat.