The Executive Committee of the Bermuda Union of Teachers confirms that the members of this Union have moved to issue a vote of no confidence in the Commissioner of Education, the Permanent Secretary of Education, and the Minister of Education. This Union remains committed to our students by ensuring Education for Responsibility, and it is with this goal in mind that our confidence in the leadership of the Bermuda Public School System is lost.
The motion was presented during an Emergency General Meeting that was held remotely on Thursday, February 10, 2022. The motion was passed with a majority of 72% of the members present in the meeting. A quorum was established at the start of the meeting, which included members from across our public schools on the island. The quorum and vote were recorded and verified by individual school representatives who managed the virtual rooms of the nearly three hundred members present at the start of the meeting.
This vote is a direct reflection of many months of disrespect, disregard, and distasteful coercion toward our body of professional educators. The Union has collaborated with the Ministry and Department of Education during the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a positive, collaborative relationship was established during the early stages of the pandemic, this Union has felt a persistent deterioration of these unified efforts.
From the onset of this pandemic, our members put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure student needs, both academic and emotional, were met. Despite our members’ willingness to, and success at, repeated adaptation, they have been made to endure constant threats and bullying from the Ministry and Department during the current CoE and Minister’s respective reigns. We have been tolerating a lot of unacceptable behavior on the part of these often-callous leaders for many years now and would like to note that this is the second vote of no confidence issued for CoE Richards and PS Valerie Robinson- James during their tenure.
Some of the main issues this Union discussed in the preamble to this vote of no confidence, as shared by members over the past several months, are:
· Reactive Management: Two years into a pandemic, the data driven Ministry and Department of Education have failed to create policies and systems informed by previous experience. Professional input and useful data have been provided by system leaders on school reopening, campus protocols, testing schedules, and more. This information has come from educators in conversation and collaboration with school leaders and parents. Still, we have repeatedly found the BPSS in crisis due to lack of foresight, last-minute changes, and ineffective, or nonexistent communication.
· Disregard of Admin/Teacher Input: Administrators and Teachers interact with parents and receive daily feedback. These professionals have continually provided input and suggestions in response to the realities of what is taking place in each school. However, many of the concerns have been disregarded as leadership moves ahead with implementing irrational expectations that in many cases have created more havoc within school buildings; felt by our students and their parents. Capable administrative leadership within many buildings has been crippled with the top-down dictatorial demands from the Department of Education.
· Communication Disrespect: Administrators and Teachers have frequently woken to new information about schools, which comes with new directives that are expected to be carried out that very day. At times, parents are in receipt of information that they have reasonable questions about. Teachers, having not received that same information through proper dissemination are left to sort through mixed messages and hearsay for direction. Emails and phone messages containing pertinent information from the Department of Education are expected to be carried out at the start of the next school day, are often sent at late hours in the evening.
· Lack of Flexibility: Teachers have risen to the occasion in doing their part for flexible conformity over the past two years by sacrificing personal planning time, facilitating additional duties, providing continual coverage, and coming out of pocket financially to provide high-quality remote and in-class experiences, all to ensure that our schools remain safe, and our students are serviced during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Ministry and Department have scrambled to figure it out, and that same level of consideration, compassion, and understanding has not been shown for teachers who have had personal crises to attend to, or when making simple requests that align with the struggles, we as a community have faced over the past couple of years.
· Punitive Recourse: The Department of Education has been challenged for years in showing appreciation for their employees, who are the ones constantly conforming and adapting to the many indecisive changes that education has gone through over the years. Danielson,Plan2022,Standards-
Basedgrading,EducationReform,etc.,nomatter the plan, Teachers show up and serve our children in the midst of the continual goal post changes; giving over and above the hours of the workday to plan, prepare and organize
enrichment activities for their students. However, the DoE’s first recourse for any perceived misstep of any Teacher is to put them on administrative leave, deduct or threaten the loss of pay, or deny/provide hassle for requested leave (sick, bereavement, and/or personal leave). More recently, the January back-to-school debacle, where the focus was on when people tested, and not actually addressing the issues affecting the return to school.
· False PR Perceptions: The Ministry of Education frequently presents a narrative to the wider community that may fit into a political play but is either simply not true, or the weight of the demands shared has been contributing to teacher burnout, and low morale. For example: “Effective bubbles within schools” and the disingenuous “we appreciate our Teachers” public statements do not ring true when considering the realities students and teachers have been facing daily.
· Inequity for Teachers: Many Government Departments have responded to the pandemic with compassion and understanding for the workers who fall under their remit. Teachers requested some of the same provisions that all or most other government workers were afforded in response to the pandemic, and the Ministry and Department of Education either refused or penalized Teachers on several occasions. Some examples include, not being able to work remotely (especially when students are out), not being allowed to roll over personal days, additional travel restrictions for educators wishing to travel over the break (who were told they must seek permission first if they wanted to travel during the holidays).
In addition to the concerns of the members, the Union office has been experiencing an increase of ineffective management practices, on the part of the MoE/DoE, which has led to an unfortunate breakdown in relations and overall poor treatment of teachers.
· Frequent Cancellation/Postponement of Joint Collective Consultation Meetings: These standing monthly meetings are meant to be the forum to address concerns, bring about resolutions and consult on education matters. The cancellation and postponement of the JCC meetings have been a frequent practice of the DoE for the past several years. In many cases, when the meetings are held, issues are deferred to the next meeting, or the blame is placed on another entity that hasn’t responded to the DoE yet. The Department of Health, Management Services, the Accountant General, or Chambers are a few of the departments who are given the fall for several responses from the DoE being delayed – many matters are still outstanding.
· Continual Disregard for Combined Consultative Committee (CCC) Meetings: These meetings, which include representatives of the Ministry of Education, the Department of Education, The Bermuda Union of Teachers, and the Bermuda Public Services Union should be held termly to communicate, examine, discuss, and resolve matters of concern. Despite the BUT’s steadfast urgency to convene such meetings, still, the PS has not set the calendar, and a CCC meeting has not taken place for several years.
· Breakdown in Securing an MOU: The opportunity to secure an MOU was extended to all Unions by the Government, with the understanding that the items negotiated will not have a financial cost to them. The Union reduced its original 12 item proposal down to five priority items. A few of those included providing Teachers an additional preparation day at the beginning of the school year, one pack-up day at the end of the year, and the ability to roll over any unused personal days (maximum four days) – items applicable and understandable considering the effects of the pandemic. These priority items were denied by the Department of Education with a rationale that they have cost implications to the Government. To date, the Union has not received the monetary value of the costs claimed – a request submitted since last August. Sadly, the Government seems to be completely reneging on this offer by informing this Union that usual negotiations will commence in the coming weeks. We are deeply concerned that a promise of an MOU last year was simply a political ploy to blur public perceptions of the Government’s relationship with its education Union partners.
· Sporadic Responses: The Union has sent several emails regarding general concerns. Most messages are responded to by being “noted,” without an adequate response or follow-up. The only timely responses, as of late, that the Department of Education has been responding to are the filed grievances (all responded to on the last date required, as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, demonstrating the lack of urgency to resolve), making this MoE/DoE leadership bearers of the most grievances, possibly in our history of Union/Government relations. From a labour relations stance, we would like to think that every issue or concern should not have to go through a grievance process. We believe that many items can be addressed reasonably through effective, efficient dialogue and communication, however, this has not been the case.
·Over30ActiveGrievances: SomeoftheoutrightbreachesofourCollectiveBargaining Agreement and the Policy and Procedures Manual for Teaching Staff (some of these malpractices date back years) of which the Union has officially filed on behalf of the Union and its members are as follows:
• Hours of Work – Teachers are expected to fulfill work duties outside of the 200 days, 35-hour work week, and are penalized and/or threatened if they do not comply.
• Substitute Teachers – Either not being paid at the correct scale, or not being paid at all.
• Acting Appointments – Teachers acting up in positions and not being remunerated correctly or at all in some instances.
• Salary Adjustments – Eligible Teachers are being denied the opportunity to interview for vacant positions.
• Long Service Awards – Teachers being denied their award and/or receiving their award beyond the deadline.
• Professional Development – Denying members the opportunity to benefit from a sabbatical.
• Training and Re-Categorization – Eligible teachers being denied application and/or interviews on completion of DoE approved courses.
• Statement of Pay – Late distribution, or non-distribution.
• Protective Clothing – Non-provision of adequate protective gear as outlined in the
• Scale Posts – Eligible Teachers being denied and/or posts not being advertised thus
leaving school departments without adequate leadership and support in
• Lunch Duty/Break & Preparation Time – Teachers not being given their lunch
break and/or allocated preparation time.
• Union Rights – Teachers being intimidated and penalized for acting in their
position as a Representative, or Officer of the Union.
• Sick Leave – Teachers are expected to work during or attend school on the
weekend to prepare classes while they’re on certified sick leave.
• Maternity/Paternity Leave – Eligible Teachers are being denied this benefit.
It is important to note that many members feel too intimidated to submit grievances on their own behalf because of fear of being targeted or further bullied by the MoE/DoE.
Due to the complete disregard of our concerns on the part of these system heads, we feel that they are neither willing nor able to properly lead education in Bermuda into the future. We believe that this vote by our members indicates an urgent need to address the leadership of the CoE, PS, and Minister of Education.
We need effective professionals who will acknowledge the essential role that Teachers play in the execution of everyday education, and not treat us like expendable, agency-less hands. We need those at the top to allow actual leadership to occur within school buildings – the antiquated, top-down approach to managing our education system is essentially a shot in the foot. The Ministry and Department of Education must remember that, yes, schools exist for children, but the art of educating within our schools would not be possible without the Teachers.
This vote of no confidence is the first step in a process that we hope will adequately address the valid concerns facing the BPSS during this pivotal time of education reform (which, might we add, our Teachers are major contributors to, and builders of, as members of the respective reform teams). We need to see effective and authentic action, beyond the lip service delivered to the wider public. The B.U.T. Membership, Representatives, and Executive will continue to meet as we collectively move forward, while advocating for positive change, in solidarity.
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