Education Minister Jeffery Lloyd charged yesterday that teachers at C.H. Reeves Junior High School who withdrew their labor over environmental concerns at the school have engaged in an illegal strike and must return to the classrooms immediately.
“The issue of teachers leaving their station, rendering minor, vulnerable children susceptible to injury or harm, is a very serious matter, sir, and one which the ministry and this government laments to the highest degree of regret possible,” Lloyd said in the House of Assembly.
“The parents of the children enrolled in the public school system in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas send their children to school with the expressed and tacit expectation that they will receive the necessary instruction, edification and training for their own personal advancement in a safe, caring, professional, disciplined and respectful environment.
“The action of the last week by teachers at the C.H. Reeves Junior High School has unfortunately impaired that expectation.”
He added, “The ministry and government cannot absorb any rationale for the actions taken by teachers at C.H. Reeves, especially where clear, articulated and agreed procedures are established to address and remedy all complaints.
“I, therefore, urge, all educational professionals, especially those at C.H. Reeves, to return to work, and assist in the sacred mission of preparing our people to effectively and proficiently negotiate the vicissitudes of the ever-advancing world.”
But the Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) argued yesterday that the school is not a safe and healthy environment for teachers to work in and has filed a trade dispute to resolve the matter.
In a statement, BUT Acting Secretary Tiffany Delancy-Laing said the teachers at C.H. Reeves are some of the best in the country and are only seeking a solution to the environmental concerns at the school.
“They (teachers) have stated over and repeatedly that they want to work but they cannot and will not work in an environment that is not healthy, “ Delancy-Laing said.
She said the teachers are concerned about mold contamination at the school, sewerage problems in the bathrooms and rat and termite infestation, among other issues.
Lloyd explained yesterday that on Monday, October 29, teachers withdrew their labor due to “suspicion of the presence of mold in 12 classrooms, leakage in a few of the classrooms, termite infestation, and leaky toilets in one block of girls’ bathrooms”.
Lloyd said the ministry asked Anthony Ryan of the Environmental Monitoring and Risk Assessment Division at the Department of Environmental Health to assess the school.
“He made an assessment of the affected classrooms and found what he described to be recognized environmental concerns, including in particular dust, and accumulated dirt,” Lloyd said.
“He subsequently formulated a prescription to rectify those issues.”
The Ministry of Education then hired a contractor who removed mildew, cleaned the dust on ceiling beams, cleaned the air-conditioning units, window sills and elsewhere.
“Other contractors effected repairs to a leaky roof and to faulty toilets in one of the female students’ bathrooms,” the minister said.
Lloyd said Ryan was then asked to conduct another assessment of the school.
Ryan provided the Ministry of Education with an oral report which indicated that the school was suitable for occupancy, Lloyd said.
“However, on Friday, November 2, 2018, teachers at C.H. Reeves still refused to work despite the fact that a new classroom schedule was constructed by administrators that accommodated all classes without them having to use the newly cleaned rooms,” the minister said.
“Instead, they insisted upon being provided with a copy of a written report prepared by the Department of Environmental Health Services.
“To accommodate the additional repairs, the executives of the Department of Education in conjunction with the school’s administrative team, decided that the school would temporarily operate on the staff meeting bell schedule. This would allow for classes to be dismissed at 2 p.m. daily until the repairs were successfully completed.
“However, on Monday, 5th November 2018, teachers abandoned their posts again, leaving students dangerously unsupervised.
“The Ministry of Education received the official written report from Mr. Ryan at the end of the work day on Monday past, which was shared immediately with the Bahamas Union of Teachers.
“At BUT’s request, the director, Mr. Marcellus Taylor, and his team arranged a meeting between Mr. Ryan and BUT because the union claimed that they did not understand the report.
“The meeting was arranged for 3 p.m. Tuesday, yesterday. However, at 3:10 p.m., 10 minutes after the agreed time, the union called to say that they were otherwise engaged and could not meet. The union has not been heard from since.”
Lloyd said the teachers at C.H. Reeves have blatantly ignored the grievance procedures outlined in the industrial agreement between the BUT and the government.
“They have also disregarded the expert opinion of those at the Environmental Monitoring [and] Risk Assessment Division,” he said.
“Most of all, they have reneged on their responsibilities and neglected the education of our youth, the future of our nation.”
But Delancy-Laing said the teachers are willing to work.
“They came up with various solutions to have work resume, with the implementation of a rotations system. This is something that was used after Hurricane Matthew had damaged some of their classrooms.
“The MOE has outright rejected this solution.
“A meeting was held with the MOE and the union and we were told that the most pressing issues were resolved.
“Upon our inspection of the school grounds, we found this to be inaccurate. The concerns of the teachers have yet to be met.”
She said the union has filed a trade dispute to resolve these matters.
“Our teachers fear for their health and safety and these matters cannot be taken lightly,” Delancy-Laing said.