Angry Salvation Army School for the Blind staff want two officials removed

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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RESTIVE Ministry of Education (MOE) staff at Salvation Army School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in St Andrew are calling for the removal of two officials at the institution, after filing a slew of complaints, including mistreatment, against the pair.

The call came at a meeting among more than 30 staff members, MOE officials and commissioner in charge of the Salvation Army Caribbean Territorial Headquarters Devon Haughton at the school on Thursday, November 21 which the Jamaica Observer attended.

Relations between the staff and Salvation Army officials reached boiling point almost a month ago when the officials took the decision to close the dormitory facility at the school for the midterm break.

Since that time, several allegations have been made against the officials who have not returned calls placed by the Observer in attempts to get a comment.

“They are acting as if all of us come together and say, 'Yes, we want unnuh remove them'. We are having problems, Sir. So this can't sweep underneath the rug because we are having serious problems,” an irate staff member told Haughton, capturing the tone of the hour-long meeting.

“Staff have been abused emotionally, physically and psychologically and something needs to be done. And for the organisation to run properly you have to have comfortable staff. We have stress a wi yard; when wi come here wi have stress. Wi have stress everyweh wi go, wi have stress. Wi want to be treated with respect and with likkle love like how wi give the children them love,” the staff member said.

The two accused officials were absent from the meeting, a development that did not sit well with the staff.

Several who spoke commented on the pair's absence, insisting that they should have made themselves available to respond to the allegations.

In response, however, Haughton said he, too, would have snubbed the meeting, arguing that the environment was “charged” and that staff had long tried and convicted both officials.

But the complaints continued to pile up, with a male staff member alleging that one of the officials had “profiled and searched” him, damaging his reputation.

The man, who said he had been working at the school for almost 10 years, told the meeting that last October he was standing at the school gate minding his own business when the official “decided to profile me, intimidate me and then search my property... A situation like that tarnish my reputation, mash-up my character. Does the Salvation Army officer have authority to search anybody on the Government road? I came back down here just to make sure that if he has a problem or if he is missing anything off the compound. I was here begging for him to rewind the camera or call the police... does he have the power to search anyone at all on Government road?”

Haughton, in response, said the situation was “unfortunate” and the staff member had the right to refuse the search.

But the man did not accept Haughton's reply, questioning whether it was okay for the official to “bully” people.

“He's intimidating me all work hours, so that, to me, is a personal vendetta against me. So if you guys could please find out from him why did he target my reputation and my character by searching me on public property. When a man take everything from you, the only thing you have is your reputation,” the employee stated.

Another staff member lamented what she claimed was constant disrespect from the officials being accused.

“There is no respect for staff and they come and abuse staff. If you treat your child bad him a go run away from home and then start rebel. This is what is happening to us as staff. We are being treated bad... and we have rebelled by writing a letter,” the staff member said.

Others also pointed out the lack of response to staff complaints, whether communicated verbally or in writing.

The staff said contentious matters have also been deemed closed without any investigation by the organisation.

But Haughton noted that he has been tasked with supervising 16 countries and raised concerns about communication channels at the institution.

“My experience with the school is that you have other persons who have come to this institution and when we get complaints like this, the Salvation Army pulls the person and everybody says 'Hooray,' and then you get another one and it continues,” Haughton said, adding that while he has made a note of all the negatives, he is aware of positives from the accused officials.

The MOE representatives also communicated that notes had been taken during the meeting and that the education ministry would review the complaints. The meeting ended on that note.

A second meeting is scheduled for January.

The school, the only of its kind in the country, is a partnership between the education ministry and Salvation Army. Although the property is owned and operated by the Salvation Army, the Ministry of Education provides funding, including payment for staff.


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