Anger brewing

Ministry's 3-day extension of school year not fair to all, say principals

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 19, 2018

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TEMPERS in the education system are just below boiling point in response to a Ministry of Education circular effectively extending the academic year by three days.

In bulletin 65/201, dated April 13, 2018, the ministry said that in order to make up for the lost contact time during the period of March 12-14, 2018 schools will only break for Labour Day on May 23, 2018 and resume on Thursday, May 24, 2018.

Some teachers have suggested that this action is a direct response to the teachers' sick-out on March 12-14 as wage negotiations with the Government came to a head.

The teachers had staged the protest against the Government's wage offer of a 16 per cent increase over four years.

Yesterday, the Jamaica Observer spoke to one principal who expressed what was said to be the “general sentiments” of the principals' group.

According to the principal, it is felt that while school must be in session for a specific number of days, to extend the school year for all schools is “unfair”.

“We don't think it should be wholesale, because there were some schools that never observed industrial action, and especially some high schools. Every school should not be subjected to it. If they're going to say that those schools that observed the three-day industrial action must do their extra three days, that is fine, but everybody didn't,” the principal, who requested anonymity, said.

The principal further stated that the ministry holds a record of all the schools with teachers who went on sick-out and the schools with teachers who didn't, so it should be guided by that list.

“They called around to all these schools and got the record. They called us every day to get the information. They know the schools that were affected. It is unfair. I heard there was a meeting of Region One principals with the ministry and that they are fighting it. They are upset, especially because we [as principals] can't take industrial action,” the administrator told the Observer.

Yesterday, Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid denied that the extension of the school year is a result of the sick-out.

Reid told the Observer that it is the law to ensure that school is in session for a maximum number of days.

“We sent out a bulletin to advise the system about some adjustments in the school days. So it's not anything that we're hiding. It's how we normally communicate to the system. There were reports of a sick-out; teachers not attending schools, classes not happening. The education system was disrupted and it is a national fact. It isn't a new position and persons were asking how are we going to make up those days,” Reid said.

“We have two options, because if there were, for example, a strike action that was taken you lose your day's pay. If you go on sick-out you have to account for all of that; that you were absent, but equally, in the interest of our students, the system would have been disrupted, and by law, the Education Act, schools have to open for a total of 190 days. That's what the law says. So we were doing everything to keep the schools open, but obviously by virtue of what took place it caused a disruption in the system,” the minister stated.

He added: “So, as a responsible Government and a ministry, we are respectfully trying to make up the time lost in the interest of the education of our children and the advancement of our country. I don't see how that can be construed as punishment.”

Section 43 subsection 3 of the Education Act states that every public educational institution shall meet for classes not less than 190 days of each school year, unless it is prevented from doing so for reasons approved by the minister.

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