Update Friday at 12:15 p.m.:
The Ministry of Education and Department of Education Services announced Friday that it had found a substitute teacher to take over the Year 5 class at East End Primary. The teacher and other teachers were on site Friday and the school was open, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said during a Legislative Assembly budget hearing Friday. A phone call to the school was not answered.
East End parent Kenia McFarland said parents had not sent their children to school Friday, but were planning to do so on Tuesday.
Parents at East End Primary have pulled their children from class in protest over a situation that placed an assistant teacher in charge of the Year 5 classroom for the past three weeks.
The gate of the school was already closed and locked when parents and their children arrived on site Thursday morning at 8 a.m. Some parents said administrators had been warned of the planned demonstration. About 50 adults and as many children milled about in the street in front of the school.
Three weeks ago, the Year 5 teacher (whom the Compass has decided not to name at this point) was pulled from the classroom over a complaint that was referred to Family Protection Services. An assistant teacher has been running the class while officials investigate the complaint. The education department has said it is searching for a qualified teacher to take the class.
Several parents said they are particularly concerned because a similar situation took place 18 months ago at the school. Students in the affected class were left without a qualified teacher for two months.
“This is a critical time,” said Joy Vernon, 41, president of the school’s PTA. “Exams are approaching.”
Ms. Vernon, who has a child in the affected classroom, said she and other parents had tried to let the Department of Education Services know their concerns, but felt there had not been an adequate response.
“We wanted to allow our voices to be heard,” she said. “We’re not going to settle for an assistant teacher. It’s not fair.”
An hour into the protest, Department of Education Services director Lyneth Monteith arrived at the school along with Gloria Bell, the department’s senior school improvement officer.
Ms. Monteith said she shared the concerns of the parents, acknowledging that her department lacks adequate resources when it comes to such situations. There are a limited number of qualified teachers who can take over a classroom in such circumstances.
“Our pool is very thin,” Ms. Monteith said, adding that the strategy has been to “ask around to find someone who’s willing to come in.”
So far, she said, the department has not been successful in finding a qualified candidate.
“We aren’t looking for just anybody,” she said. “We’re looking for someone who has the skills to go in there.”
Ms. Monteith spent about 30 minutes addressing the parents and answering questions. She offered as a temporary solution having Ms. Bell, a former principal at Prospect Primary, take over the class.
The parents were not satisfied. Some asked Ms. Bell how long it had been since she had been a classroom teacher. She did not answer the question directly, but said her work as both a principal and as a school improvement officer put her in the classroom as an observer and adviser on a regular basis.
“As an educator,” she told the group, “I should be able to step into a classroom [as a teacher] at any time.”
Kenia McFarland said, despite Ms. Bell’s assurances, she and other parents would keep their children out of the school at least until Tuesday. She said she was uncertain whether that boycott would be extended if the situation is not resolved.
“We want a teacher to be placed there, or we want back [the teacher who was removed],” Ms. McFarland said. “He’s an excellent teacher. You could say he’s the backbone of the school.”
His class of 20 is not the only one impacted by his absence, Ms. Vernon said.
“All 95 students are affected,” she said.
Ms. Monteith said she could not discuss the details of the complaint or the investigation involving the teacher, but said things are proceeding as quickly as possible.
As for finding a replacement teacher, she said she had few options. The department, she said, will be “just redoubling what we’ve done before.”
She denied the suggestion by some parents that the East End school was being treated differently.
“It is the Cayman Islands education system,” she said. “Our goal is always to act in the best interest of our children and their education.”
George Williams, 41, who has two daughters at the school, was not convinced.
“The school is neglected in a way,” Mr. Williams said. “We really can’t get what we need.”
He was frustrated that the parents had to resort to mounting a protest because they could not get a response otherwise.
“It shouldn’t have to come to this point,” he said, addressing Ms. Monteith. “Our children are out of school because of the Department of Education. I hold you responsible.”
East End MLA Arden McLean was on hand and accepted a petition signed by parents and concerned citizens. He said he would deliver it to the minister of education, Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. In addressing the crowd, he said the failure to find a qualified teacher for a class where the regular teacher had been removed or had quit was not unique to East End Primary.
“They do it to other schools,” Mr. McLean said. “They complain of the same thing. The only difference is you are brave enough to stand up and I applaud you for doing that.”
He said the only way things would change would be if more parents took similar actions.