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Gag order - Ministry may muzzle politically active educators

Published:Tuesday | February 26, 2019 | 12:17 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Ruel Reid
Ruel Reid

Seeking to make good on his promise to formulate a code of conduct for politically active public-sector educators, the Ruel Reid-led Ministry of Education has outlined a raft of proposed regulations, which include clauses muzzling board chairmen, teachers and principals from criticising the ministry.

“Teachers or principals who are politically active are restricted from criticising the programmes and policies of the Ministry of Education in any media, including social media, unless it is in the context of a public meeting of the teachers’ union or any other such non-political forum,” one proposed clause in the concept paper developed earlier this month reads.

The proposed regulations also warn that teachers or principals who are active in politics can be sanctioned if they fail to follow policy directives or allow their biases to affect the implementation of ministry policies or the running of their schools.

“It will be a disciplinary offence for such conduct and shall be considered professional misconduct,” read the document.

In an interview with The Gleaner last month, Reid had called for both Cabinet and the parliamentary Opposition to mull over the formulation of the code of conduct, including monitoring educators’ social-media activities.

The former Jamaica College headmaster argued then that there has been some latitude for teachers to be politically active while they are still employed, but there is no code of conduct.

“So I am signalling that outside of board appointments, for good governance, that is a conversation that we need to have,” he indicated then.

“It’s a good time for us to have that conversation and an agreement between the parties as to how/when teachers, principals, vice-principals who become councillors, caretakers, they will have to conduct themselves while they still remain in the employ and payment of the Government,” he had further explained.

The education ministry paper, which The Gleaner received yesterday afternoon, also details a plan to outlaw principals and board chairmen at the same school from both being active in politics. The concept paper says: “It will be considered a breach of good governance where there is an active principal in a named political office and the board chairman is a fellow active member of the said association or organisation or from the opposite political organisation. Where this conflict arises, the board chairman should resign, or the minister shall exercise Regulation 79.3 to remedy the situation.”

Regulation 79.3 gives the minister the power to revoke the appointment of school board chairmen.

Reid’s call, on January 30, for a code of conduct coincided with a blow-up over Rayon Simpson, a principal of Belmont Academy in Westmoreland who had been seconded to St Andrew Technical High School two years ago. Reid had slammed Simpson for imposing a $50 fine on students who arrived at school late, which drew Simpson’s ire.

Reid, in WhatsApp messages on January 30 to Donna Parchment Brown, Jamaica’s political ombudsman, had asked her to intervene and sanction Simpson. He cited principal of Padmore Primary, Keisha Hayle, who unsuccessfully ran against the Jamaica Labour Party’s Dr Nigel Clarke, for remaining as the People’s National Party’s (PNP) caretaker in North West St Andrew, while having Elaine Foster-Allen as the school’s board chairman. Foster-Allen, a former permanent secretary under Reid, is now chairman of the PNP’s Education Commission.

The education minister declined The Gleaner’s request for comment last night.

Dr Garth Anderson, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, has not responded to The Gleaner’s request, over the past several weeks, for comment on Reid’s proposed code of conduct for educators.