Protesters chain gates and leave note demanding a fifth-grade teacher
Protesters padlocked the gates of East End Primary School and left a note at the scene demanding a new year five teacher as frustrations over staffing boiled over.
Children and teachers arrived at the school on Tuesday to find the front and back gates chained and padlocked. The school day was delayed until police with bolt-cutters gained access just after 9:30 a.m.
A note was found in a classroom, saying: “We demand a year five teacher,” according to parents at the scene.
Some of the children were kept in the school hall while police searched the classroom.
Raymond Connolly, vice-chairman of the parent teacher association, said the school had lost its reception teacher and the fifth grade teacher over the summer and they had not been replaced.
The Caymanian Compass reported last month that 80 teachers, around one in five of the entire teaching body, had left the public school system in the last academic year. Most have been replaced, but some vacancies remain open.
Tasha Ebanks-Garcia, a senior official in the department of education, accepted the situation was not ideal but said it was an “unfortunate reality” because of the length of the recruitment process.
Education Minister Tara Rivers, who met with the school principal following yesterday’s lockout, is proposing an extension to the one-month notice period required for teachers, to allow the ministry more breathing space to find new staff.
In this case, it appears a replacement had been hired for the fifth grade teacher at East End Primary, who was promoted and had left the school. Ms Rivers said the replacement teacher had broken her contract and left the island after just one day on the job.
She said a supply teacher had been offered to the school, but the school had rejected the teacher and chose to shuffle existing staff to fill the void.
Mr. Connolly said many parents were upset about the staffing situation at East End. He said he understood the actions of the protesters, who he believes to be frustrated parents. He said the PTA had written to government about the problem and legislator Arden McLean had raised the issue on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, but nothing had been done.
Mr. Connolly, who has grandchildren at the school, said, “They took two teachers from us and we have been asking them to replace them. We are three weeks into the school term and nothing has been done.
“We have got some very angry parents. They feel their children are not getting the teaching they are supposed to.”
The action of the protesters delayed the start of the school day. But Mr. Connolly said he was not concerned about the disruption.
“I’m not upset because they did what they felt they had to do to get the message to the education department. Tara Rivers came down, someone from the ministry came down, Mr. McLean came down. They had a meeting with the principal and they have said they are going to look into it. It seems like this has been effective.”
He said there were around 113 students at the school, including around 16 in the fifth grade, and six teachers.
One parent told the Compass she had arrived at the school at 8 a.m. to find a new chain and padlock on the gates and parents, teachers and children waiting outside.
She said she was surprised by the action but understood that some parents were upset that the fifth grade teacher had been transferred.
“It is frustrating to know the school year has started and they don’t have a teacher. I think they are moving other teachers so the subjects are still being taught, but it would be nice to have a dedicated teacher for them.”
A spokeswoman for the department of education services, confirmed a teacher had been hired but left almost immediately.
A new recruitment process has begun in an effort to find a long-term replacement.
Ms Rivers said she had a productive meeting with the principal on Tuesday morning and hoped the school would now accept a new supply teacher to cover the interim period.
She said she appreciated the concerns of the parents at East End, but not the methods of the protesters.
“We are committed to ensuring quality education for our students and we always applaud parental involvement in this process.
“However, we seriously discourage members of the public from locking up schools in an effort to communicate with the education system.”
She said she was prepared to meet directly with parents about any concerns and urged them to go through their school PTA to arrange meetings.
The education department’s statement did not reference the note in the classroom but confirmed “entry to a classroom’ had been damaged and outlined the circumstances of the fifth grade teacher’s departure.
“There is some indication that these acts may have been intended as a protest against a current staff vacancy within the school. At the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, two members of East End Primary School received promotions. Among the promotions was the former year five teacher at East End who was promoted to the post of literacy coach.
“This resulted in an opening in the teaching staff at East End Primary School. A well-qualified year five teacher was recruited and arrived in Grand Cayman prior to start of the school year. Due to circumstances beyond the control of the Department of Education Services, the person appointed chose not to follow through with her professional commitment and has since left the island.”