Sexual molestation in schools…
GTU challenges Ministry’s recommendation
The recent move by the Ministry of Education to recommend that the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) take disciplinary action against teachers accused of misconduct was regarded as a breach of protocol by President of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU), Colwyn King.
King, in an interview with this newspaper yesterday, said that if the current course of action being taken by the Ministry is not rectified forthwith, the possibility of a strike, some form of industrial or even legal action may become necessary.
The concerns of the GTU were increased after the body was privy to letters which were sent from the Ministry to certain teachers of schools where alleged acts of sexual molestations had occurred.
Such cases were recently uncovered at several schools including the Charlestown Secondary, Richard Ishmael Secondary and Goed Fortuin Primary.
And according to King, a request for intervention by the union was sought by teachers and the heads of the Goed Fortuin and Richard Ishmael Schools.
King said that it was based on the Education Ministry’s letter, which was sent to the Headmistress of the latter school and was also sent to the TSC, recommending that disciplinary action be taken against her for negligence. This move was, however, regarded as a complete breach of an agreement between the GTU and the Ministry.
King noted that the agreement does not cover the resignation of the teacher at the centre of the sexual molestation allegation at that school since she had a right to give ample notice to the Ministry. For this reason alone he said that the teacher could have been dismissed without question.
But the agreement, King disclosed, outlines that as far as possible, all matters, including the disciplining of teachers should be settled in schools. However, he explained that if a mutually satisfactory solution cannot be reached then the matter should be taken to the Regional Education Officer.
Of paramount importance, too, he said that a union official or representative must be present during the conduct of any investigation or inquiry.
Further, he pointed out that if the matter has to be taken to the Central Ministry then the teacher should be charged and given every opportunity to exculpate him/herself.
“The issue before us is simply that the Ministry has breached all procedures and protocol in dealing with this matter since no union official or rep was involved in the decision-making process. I am saying that the worst of criminals who we presume are guilty are given the opportunity to be heard to prove their guilt or innocence. In the case of these teachers, they are being treated even worse than condemned criminals because they are not given a chance to be heard.”
He additionally noted that while the GTU has a responsibility to uphold the highest of professional levels, it also has a duty to be a trade union and represent teachers, regardless of the allegations.
For this reason he said that the union is paid a monthly union due which legally binds this mode of representation.
And so serious is the representation, King said, that in 1975 the union was fined a hefty sum when it failed to represent a teacher. “The teacher took the union to court because the union failed to represent her. The union had to pay $750,000 which represented three years of union dues,” King divulged.
As a result, the GTU President said that the union will not fail to perform its duty when a teacher finds him/herself in a difficult situation in the quest to discharge teaching duties.
Accordingly, King revealed that the union has since written to the Ministry demanding that it withdraws, in particular, the letter which was sent to the Richard Ishmael Headmistress since due procedures were not followed.
“If they had taken the time to investigate, like the union did, they would have found that the HM did everything that was humanly possible in that case…They had a right to include us in their deliberation and not just send the matter to the TSC for disciplinary action.”
King said that in the past few months he was allowed to sit in on at least three cases of teachers’ misconduct all of which he believes were fairly dealt with.
However, he disclosed that he is not aware of the several other cases of teacher dismissals, which were reported by the TSC since he had had no involvement in those.
“I cannot say at this time that that was or was not the case because the union can only take action if teachers are a part of the union and request that the union intervene.”
However, King said that he believes that the current action against the teachers is drastic since there were several cases in the past to which no action was taken. In fact, he said, in one instance an official was even promoted without any disciplinary action being taken.
King said that if teachers can now be dismissed based on an allegation alone, then the same thing should go for Ministers, judges and other public figures.
“I think we are really making this place into a cowboy state and education is not in a position to go through such a dilemma. I really hope that good sense will prevail.”
As such King said that he hopes that the matter will be considered with much urgency by the Ministry, adding that he expects at least a call in this regard by Monday morning.
And should this not be the case, King divulged that the GTU is prepared to engage different methods to address the issue, pointing out that strike action or even taking the matter to court will not be ruled out.