Merl Grove High imbroglio — a conflict left to fester for far too longSunday, September 19, 2021
The bitter in-fighting at Merl Grove High School, which exploded into public view on September 10, 2021 with the controversial suspension of Principal Dr Marjorie Fullerton, is a sordid example of a conflict left to fester for far too long.
According to reports in this newspaper, knowledgeable sources revealed that the squabble at the church-run all-girls' school based at Constant Spring Road in St Andrew dated back to 2015 after Dr Fullerton was appointed principal, setting off a nasty struggle with Vice-Principal Loretta Ricketts.
Indeed, it would appear that the vice-principal and her backers, who include members of the school's board of management, have gained the upper hand, as she is, at this moment, in charge of running the school in the absence of Dr Fullerton.
Throughout the six years of this unseemly struggle, the drama took the form of several ugly incidents that seeped out, increasingly, from the staff room, as the two key leaders of the institution worked with different agendas.
The conflict deepened, and there were claims that the two were hardly on speaking terms and that Vice-principal Ricketts frequently absented herself from meetings called by the principal.
In April this year the Associated Gospel Assemblies (AGA), which operates the school, with the acquiescence of the Ministry of Education, sent in a new board chairman, Mr David Hall, but he, too, soon got entangled in the dispute, ostensibly taking the side of the vice-principal.
The Past Students' Association and the Parent Teachers' Association, which have stood firmly with Dr Fullerton, have accused Mr Hall of visiting the school or meeting with the vice-principal without the prior knowledge of the principal.
The past students' chapters in Toronto, New York, and Jamaica and the Parent Teachers' Association frame the débâcle at the school as a clash between a modern, visionary, hard-working principal, who is devoted to her students, and a group of old-timers, who talk more than perform, but have the backing of AGA board members.
Things came to ahead on September 6 when the principal returned from her summer break and upended plans for the reopening of school — plans said to have been made, allegedly, without her knowledge.
That led the board to suspend her... and to all-out 'war', as the past students' and parents' associations launched an online petition demanding her reinstatement and expressing no-confidence in Mr Hall and his church-aligned board members.
Having seen enough, apparently, Education Minister Fayval Williams belatedly summoned the embittered parties to a meeting on Friday, September 17 to discuss the issues that have marred the smooth reopening of school and triggered the suspension of the principal by the board.
Up to Jamaica Observer press time, Minister Williams did not seem to have made much headway, and Chairman Hall has insisted that a September 21 disciplinary hearing into actions by the principal would go ahead as planned, involving three disputed members of the board.
Disputes within institutions are not uncommon, but the disappointing thing about the situation at Merl Grove High School is that the conflict was taking place in full view of the students and was left to fester until the start of the new school year.
Clearly, the interest of the students was not paramount.