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Bad teachers get free pass

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Procedural errors by ignorant school boards and principals allow some teachers to escape disciplinary sanctions

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Procedural errors by some school boards and principals have allowed some bad teachers to remain in an education system from which they should have been ejected.

The Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) has admitted that it has represented some teachers who should have been booted but because the school Boards or the principals breached the Education Act. These teachers have been allowed to stay, some in the same schools where egregious offences were committed.

In some instances, the guilty teachers are protected from future penalties, and the situation is worrying Education Minister Ronald Thwaites.

JTA past president Juno Gayle told The Sunday Gleaner that in at least one case, "... I saw where a teacher was charged for misconduct. But misconduct is not a charge, it is a category. So if the person is charged under that category you have to state what the charge is," said Gayle.

According to Gayle, that teacher is likely to "get away" because of the error and double jeopardy would apply if he or she was to be cited for the same offence again".

He said some of the errors encountered by the union show clear procedural breaches from a lack of application of the relevant sections of the Education Regulations (1980).

failing to apply the regulations

"Yes, man. Yes man, too many of them (bad teachers) are in the system. And there are too many instances where boards are failing to properly apply the regulations, and that is what is keeping them in the system," said Gayle.

He said some schools await the police and court's involvement before they take action, even in instances of clear breaches by teachers, and where the Education Act should be invoked immediately.

He said the JTA had successfully represented many teachers, and while a significant number were good teachers, there were some who should clearly be out of the system.

"This was no fault of the JTA," he stated.Gayle said when a hearing is structured, the principal should bring to the attention of the board, in writing, any concerns he has about a teacher's performance, attitude or behaviour.

"The board will look at the charges and decide if the allegations warrant a hearing. Once it is serious enough for a hearing, the board creates its personnel committee and it will set up a date to try the teacher," explained Gayle.

The teacher is allowed a friend or an attorney-at-law at the hearing, and if an attorney will be present, the person against whom the complaint is made must inform the board at least seven days before the hearing.

Gayle, one of four regional officers of the JTA which represents more than 20,000 teachers, has responsibility for the parishes of Manchester, Clarendon and St Elizabeth under the Teacher and School Services Unit.

The three parishes have more than 250 public- educational institutions at the early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

He argued that a lack of training has left some members of school boards ignorant of the rules."Up to 10 years ago we were able to get the Government to spend some money in training members of school boards. My information is that no one is being trained and no one can remember the last time any attempt was made to train them. Even if the person is a lawyer they still need training," charged Gayle.

As far as he is aware, the National Council on Education (NCE) is responsible for the training of board members.

"I am calling for the resumption of the training. I am sure if there was training some of the errors that are made, would not be made. It is something that we have been talking about and this may be a very good time for them to start. I think the Ministry of Education should make an effort to train all board members, not just the chairmen," added Gayle.

Thwaites, who has spent less than six months as the education minister, agrees.

"It is absolutely true that a lot of bad teachers are remaining in the system. When I look at the proceedings of the appeals that come to me - the proceedings of the appeals committee - it is ridiculous. Everyone of them is allowed on some procedural grounds.

"But the substantive remains with the schools and afflicts the teachers," Thwaites told The Sunday Gleaner.

He said the training of school officials was a function of the NEC and that would resume.

According to Thwaites, the main function of the NEC is to advise the minister on policy, and since becoming minister he has not done anything to stop the function of that body.