Education

Teachers call in sick at West Pembroke

  • Empty classrooms: Danielle Riviere, president of West Pembroke Primary School Parent Teacher Association (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Almost all the teachers called in sick at West Pembroke Primary School yesterday.

The staff took action over a range of complaints, including the lack of a teaching assistant for autistic pupils and a lower school support teacher.

Most of the school’s 217 pupils did not stay at the school, but about 14 of them were under the supervision of a substitute teacher during the day.

Mike Charles, the Bermuda Union of Teachers general secretary, warned he could not rule out similar action at other schools and repeated his concern that teachers are at breaking point over a number of problems.

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, hoped industrial action would not spread.

He said: “I hope that it does not — there is only so much we can accomplish with what’s asked of us.”

Mr Rabain pledged to “get out there and reassure teachers and parents that we are working on this and delivering on our promises”.

Danielle Riviere, president of the Parent Teacher Association, said parents backed the action by the teachers.

She said: “Our teachers have called in sick in support of the industrial action by the union. We want to make the ministry aware the parents are in support of the teachers.

“We encourage the rest of the community to be prepared because it will be happening in other schools. The teachers have had enough and as parents we want people to recognise that.

Ms Riviere added: “Teachers are not doing this action for themselves, they are doing it because our children deserve better.

“The reality is that teachers are salaried individuals, but we as parents are the clients and we have to make our voices heard.”

Ms Riviere said that as well as the substitute teacher there was a relatively new teacher who was “not part of the sickout”, an administrator and a secretary at the school yesterday.

Jamal Anderson, whose son Shiloh, 7, is a Primary 3 pupil, said parents were sent an e-mail at 7.15am to warn them that some teachers would be absent.

He said: “When we arrived at the school, the principal was on hand to say there would be none in today. Parents from the PTA were there just in case, to watch the children.

“Parents support the teachers. The PTA is excellent and has kept us abreast of the situation.”

Joan Milner arrived at the school at about 10.30am to collect her ten-year-old granddaughter.

She explained: “A friend called me and told me that there are no teachers at the school.

“I decided to come and see what’s happening and take her with me.

“I’ve been hearing they need a couple of extra teachers to help and other things like crumbling infrastructure.

“These are our children, these are our future and the teachers are concerned about the children and their futures and what’s needed to help them.”

She found her granddaughter, a Primary 6 pupil, enjoying art tasks with the other remaining pupils.

Ms Milner said she was told they were looking forward to pizza for lunch, so she agreed to return later.

A father collecting his daughter said parents had been informed of the situation in a social-media group chat.

He said: “It’s very frustrating, there are children that are here to learn.”

Teachers launched a work-to-rule at West Pembroke earlier in the month after complaints about staff shortages, poor teacher training and low-quality technology.

Shannon James, president of the BUT, said on Wednesday that “people have just had enough” and that Mr Rabain had heard “in no uncertain way how teachers felt” at a union meeting on Tuesday night.

Mr Charles added that Autism Spectrum Disorder programme teachers had no breaks and no preparation time and there was a lack of proper staffing.

He said teaching assistants were working without a job description and were not given their full entitlements under the collective bargaining agreement.

Mr Charles added: “West Pembroke has had significant issues and we are in full support of the teachers there who are working in very difficult circumstances with insufficient support and a lack of personnel, which stops them doing the job they need, and want, to do.

“This action is an attempt to get someone to notice the issues the school is facing. They have had discussions with the Minister of Education and were promised that their issues would be a priority.”

He said that other problems included the need for special education officials for maths, English and science, more mentor teachers, substitute teachers and non-teaching deputy principals.

He added: “The question about other schools following this path is not in our control. The BUT will be guided by the dictates of the members.”

Mr Rabain said the introduction of standards based grading had been the “flashpoint”.

He said that some teacher complaints raised this week, such as wi-fi and broken fire alarms, were “already being addressed”.