EDITORIAL – East End parents put primary school in ‘time out’

When it comes to the East End Primary School parents who protested the lack of a fully qualified teacher in their children’s Year 5 classroom, we have very divergent thoughts.

First, whoever padlocked the gates of the school – no one is taking “credit” for that illegal act – disrupted the education of all the students in the primary school. This particular display of “civil disobedience” veered into “disturbance of the peace” territory. Their actions not only violated the law, they had the obvious result of denying education to all students in the school.

To be clear, such behavior should not be allowed, applauded, emulated or tolerated.

On the other hand, the East End parents’ “sit-out” demonstration certainly secured the attention of government officials and resulted in the desired appointment of a fully qualified teacher to lead the Year 5 class, three weeks after administrators had removed the original teacher, leaving an assistant teacher in charge.

So as of Tuesday, the school gates are unlocked, a substitute teacher has been found and the children are back at their desks. All’s well that ends well, right? …

Not really.

Department of Education Services director Lyneth Monteith arrived at the scene of the protest Thursday to address the parents directly. Her courage in the face of adversity was admirable … Her explanations as to why there was no replacement teacher, however, were not.

Ms. Monteith cited some of the usual reasons for public sector shortcomings, including a lack of resources and a limited pool of candidates. She assured parents that the department would find the right replacement through its strategy of “ask[ing] around to find someone who’s willing to come in.”

The parents weren’t buying it – and, frankly, neither are we. “Asking around” is not an effective recruitment strategy.

There is simply no excuse for a classroom not to have a qualified teacher for three weeks. Teacher absences – even extended absences – are not unusual. Filling them should be a routine matter as simple as roll call, not something that school administrators must wrestle with for nearly a month.

That is a lesson the department should have learned 18 months ago, when the same students – in the same class, at the same school – were left without a qualified teacher for two months. Better, they should have learned it in 2013, when someone previously padlocked the East End Primary School to protest another staff vacancy.

We certainly applaud these parents for engaging actively, and yes, passionately, in the education of their children. In that regard, every parent of every student in these islands could, and should, take a lesson, namely that they will no longer tolerate second-class education in their first-class country.

East End MLA Arden McLean applauded the parents for their protest and said the only way things will change is if more parents take similar actions.

We disagree. Mr. McLean is far closer to the source of the problem than perhaps he realizes.

As the district’s elected representative (during all three of the incidents we mentioned above), it is Mr. McLean’s duty to … well … represent his constituents’ interests in government. That includes making sure the school in his district doesn’t have a chronic shortage of teachers.

Rather than encouraging his constituents to protest to get the public services they deserve, Mr. McLean should be the one doing the protesting – in the Legislative Assembly and within the halls of government.

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