During a press conference this afternoon, President of the Bermuda Union of Teachers Nishanti Bailey revealed that, despite several efforts by the Union to collaborate with the Department and Ministry of Education over the past few months, that collaboration has not been reciprocated.
According to Ms. Bailey, the Ministry has instead gone ahead with policies “ designed to fabricate a sense of anxiety and fear in [BUT] members that is laced with an unnecessary level of control.”
Ms. Bailey added that public school teachers and other BUT members have worked with the Ministry since the very beginning of COVID-19 and for their efforts, they have received pay cuts, intrusive testing regimes and high pressure to perform at unreasonable levels, just to name a few challenges.
“ [The union’s] efforts to address the concerns of our over 800 members, who daily make the inner workings of teaching and learning tick, have been dismissed by their employers; causing a once amicable alliance in the face of unprecedented conditions to deteriorate into numerous tense impasses,” she explained.
“ [As a result of these impasses], we have requested that the Education Emergency Measures Committee (EEMC) be reconvened urgently and that the current rollout of the massively botched January return to school be rethought and align with the expert advice of those who we have put in place to do just that, advise.”
If an EEMC were to be called, all the stakeholders and unions involved within the island’s public school system would come together.
“ If we took the opportunity to collaborate and hear from all stakeholders, what their thoughts are and how we can properly prepare if Plan A does not pan out, then we can go back and communicate to all of our stakeholders what this may look like if X, Y and Z happens,” Ms. Bailey said.
According to the Union’s General Secretary-Designate Dante Cooper, the Ministry’s rationale for not convening an EEMC meeting at this time was due to Minister of Education the Honorable Diallo Rabain, JP, MP, being out on vacation. However, Mr. Cooper and the BUT believes that that was a reactionary move from the Minister.
“ To be proactive would be to have convened the EEMC at the beginning or middle of December, when we first got notices of this new strain,” he said. “ The committee did not convene before the start of this school year in August.”
Ms. Bailey highlighted that the BUT’s desire to simply sit and have a discussion with those who make the decisions is not to make anything more convenient for teachers. Rather, it is to protect the community during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
“The outrage that comes from in-person school not starting on time is nothing compared to the outrage we hear with starting school too early directly layered to another spike of this virus,” she said. “ We must do better. . . it has been two years’ worth of unnecessary inconveniences to our parents, teachers, students and the wider community.
We really should have it together by now. Until this pandemic is a distant memory, the EEMC must function and the Ministry must collaborate with all stakeholders, this union included.”
According to Mr. Cooper, teaching morale in the island’s public schools is now the lowest it has ever been. This is mostly due to the pandemic and the fear surrounding it, but also to a consistent lack of resources and teaching students in the 21st century with technology from the 20th.
“ Teachers experience bullying, coercion and what we are seeing right now is the farthest it’s ever been; with the Ministry demanding teachers to get tested on January 1, a public holiday,” he said. “ It has gone quite far and morale is very low [as a result.]”
He added that, until all BUT members can come together for a general meeting, no industrial action can or will be taken on the lack of collaboration from the Ministry.
“ Several members have already called our office asking for a general meeting, and we have had to calm them down and have them understand that having a meeting at this time is extremely difficult,” General Secretary Anthony Wolffe said.
“No teacher wants to engage in industrial action of any kind, but we will not tolerate the behavior of our employers that they are directing towards our members,” Ms. Bailey added. “ Our hope is that there is someone who can intervene to address the concerns that are real. We are asking for sound guidance as a community to be able to assist us in the times that we are in.”
On behalf of the entire BUT, Ms. Bailey would like to highly commend all of Bermuda’s public school teachers for coming together on a regular basis and working with whatever they have and whatever is thrown at them.
“ I urge our educators to continue to stay strong, persistent and deliver the professionalism that you have been delivering to our students and families,” she said. “ To our students and families, know that your teachers care deeply about you and are anxious to get back into the classroom with you and to the parents, we ask for your patience while the powers that be devise a plan that we can all understand and which works for everyone.
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