A decision on whether schoolchildren will return to the classroom on Monday is in the hands of teachers, the education minister said last night.
Diallo Rabain, speaking after teachers downed tools as part of an industrial dispute, said: “That was something that was not finalised in our discussion.”
Mr Rabain added that he had asked Department of Education employees to come up with a contingency plan if teachers did not return to their schools on Monday.
But he said: “We are very hopeful that we have answered the questions sufficiently enough for the Bermuda Union of Teachers that they will come into the classrooms on Monday and get back to doing what it is they do best.”
Mr Rabain added: “We have held up our part of the bargain.”
He was speaking yesterday afternoon after a meeting between government education figures and the BUT.
Shannon James, the president of the BUT, said after the meeting that progress had been made. He added the two sides “were in a much better space” and that a statement from the union would be released later.
The talks followed an emergency meeting held by the BUT yesterday morning where teachers identified nine urgent problems they wanted tackled.
These included problems with teaching assistants, contracts and job evaluations.
Enrolment and staffing problems at Elliot Primary School and the reopening of TN Tatem Middle School were also identified as stumbling blocks.
Mr James offered his “humblest and sincerest apologies to the parents and students of Bermuda” at the teachers’ meeting.
He said that teachers would much rather be in the classroom.
But Mr James added: “We believe that the ministry has left us no other choice.”
He said that the union had voted to demand a meeting with leaders of the education department, including Mr Rabain, Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, and Valerie Robinson-James, the permanent secretary.
Mr James added: “We demand that this meeting take place with the entire BUT membership.”
Teachers picketed Parliament after the union meeting.
David Burt, the Premier, announced outside the House of Assembly that the meeting would take place.
In a letter dated yesterday addressed to Mike Charles, general secretary of the BUT, Mr Burt said he had previously invited the union to speak to him before “things escalate to this point”.
He said: “This offer has not been taken up in this instance and I would hope and implore that you would do this in the future.
“When teachers in our public education system withdraw their labour, this causes immense strain and hardship on parents and support staff who have to make alternate plans at incredibly short notice.
“Industrial action which leaves very little space for parents and other persons to plan cannot be seen as ensuring that we are as productive as possible.”
Mr Burt added: “In the best interests of our children, we need to return relations between the BUT and the Government to a collaborative place where walk outs are not needed.”
Mr Rabain said that better communication was needed between the Government and the BUT. He added: “We need to change the dynamic of this relationship.
“We cannot continue to have situations arise where we have things that are disrupting our children’s learning.
“The only people who suffer are our children.”
Mr Rabain earlier accused teachers of going “absent without permission”.
He told the House of Assembly that principals were “holding the fort” at schools while teachers attended their meeting.
Mr Rabain added: “The simple fact is that school is not off.”
But a spokeswoman for the education ministry said at noon that a decision had been made to close public schools for the rest of the day “in the interest of the safety of students, teachers and other school staff”.
She added that the ministry had been informed that teachers would not return to class until a meeting was held with the minister and officials.