Williams urges respect in Homestead peace talks
Reprising the role of peacemaker, Education Minister Fayval Williams sought to mend fences on Tuesday between teachers of Homestead Primary and its principal, Sophia Deer, whose sour relationship exploded with protests last November.
Williams visited the Spanish Town school to meet with the disgruntled teachers, administrators, the board chairman, and a parent-teacher association representative for the first time since demonstrations disrupted classes for two days.
Turning the spotlight on a culture of disrespect at the institution, the education minister made a pitch for reconciliation and called for greater collaboration among the aggrieved parties.
“There is a feeling that there is a lack of respect both ways. There is a feeling that teachers are not feeling as loved as they should. These are all issues that can be resolved,” Williams said.
“They want to know that they are not being talked down to in the presence of students and these are issues that are not insurmountable, but it will require us all to work on them and this begins at a point where respect for each other is demonstrated,” the education minister asserted.
The teachers had demanded the intervention of the minister late last year after a sixth-grader hurled stones into a classroom after he was disciplined. The incident was captured on video and went viral on social media.
Deer’s handling of the incident was criticised by teachers, who accused her of being unprofessional and being lenient with the offending student. They also claim that she openly disrespected them.
The principal declined comment on Tuesday.
The education minister pledged her commitment to re-establishing harmony.
“We are going to have as many sessions that it will take to get all the parties involved to the point where they can relate to each other,” she assured.
Highlighting the academic performance of the 70-year-old school, Williams cited statistics showing that Homestead scored higher than the national average in numeracy and literacy, and pledged the ministry’s resources to resolve the issues, adding that the intervention has started.
Deer is no stranger to controversy.
In February 2020, the principal was involved in a brawl with a sixth-grader.
Deer claimed self-defence.
She has also had fractious relations with teachers and other parents for several years.
Chairman Mark McLean, who told The Gleaner that he is satified with the ministry’s intervention so far, said Homestead’s board has implemented plans to defuse the strife between teachers and the principal.
“We have started sessions with the guidance counselling unit from the ministry and we are seeking to rebuild the bond with the teachers and administration,” McLean disclosed.
He said protocols have been established requiring teachers to first seek to resolve issues through the vice-principal.
The board chairman said that a student mentorship programme has also been set up.