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Jan 3, 2017

Schools Re-Open; Where Are the Teachers?

Across the country, teachers were not in classrooms in response to a call from the Belize National Teachers Union. The latest dispute between the B.N.T.U. and the Ministry of Education involves the resumption of classes as the union continues with its planned absence from classrooms until January ninth. While mediation is pending over salaries and makeup time following last October’s strike, today’s actions found primary school students away from schools at the start of the new semester. News Five’s Isani Cayetano speaks to all sides in the dispute.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Across Belize City, and presumably other parts of the country, attendance by primary school students on the first day of classes for the new calendar year was rather poor.  Despite a favorable turnout of teachers at several of the institutions we visited today, the number of young learners paled in comparison to their high school colleagues.  In fact, while classes were cancelled at St. Luke Methodist this morning, dozens of students were seen pouring out of Pallotti High School’s compound this afternoon at three o’clock.  On the other side of town, the ratio of students to teachers at St. John Vianney RC School was low.

 

Felix Sutherland

Felix Sutherland, Principal, St. John Vianney

“Of the teachers, we have twenty-three of our thirty teachers present today and we have one hundred and thirty-nine students which is about twenty-two percent of our student population that showed up today.”

 

During an appearance on Channel Five’s Open Your Eyes morning show earlier today, Belize National Teachers Union President Luke Palacio maintained that teachers and students, under the Education Rules, are justified in enjoying three weeks of vacation in December.

 

Luke Palacio

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“We are saying that our teachers and our students deserve to get their three weeks holiday.  If the ministry had done the right thing, if the managements had done the right thing to consult with the teachers and their representatives if they felt so, because our commitment was to making up the time.  We were not granted an opportunity, we were not involved in the discussions, we were not invited to the discussions so that together we could have said even if it is the way the ministry would have envisaged it at least there would have been that participation and I think that we would not be at this juncture where we are today.  So our position remains that we are to be on holiday until the ninth of January.”

 

That crisis once again involves a stalemate between the BNTU and the Ministry of Education, with managing authorities purportedly taking a backseat to the standoff.  Here at All Saints School classes will not resume until Wednesday.  Teachers, however, are using the additional time constructively.

 

Tanesha Ross

Tanesha Ross, Principal, All Saints School

“Today we have scheduled, as was informed to the parents in December of last year a workshop where teachers are partaking in more of a mediation session as we progress into the new calendar year and so we’ve asked and informed parents that the teachers needed this day to do that workshop.  And so tomorrow we are scheduled to have students come back to school.”

 

That show of students, like the gathering at St. John Vianney, will perhaps be indicative of the overall attendance for the remainder of the week.

 

Felix Sutherland

“From today’s attendance we had one hundred and thirty-nine this morning and this afternoon that fell by some, maybe twenty or thirty.  So it is too early too early to say if it will be the trend for the next three remaining days.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Share with me what may very well be a collective philosophical position, if I may, held by the teachers here at St. John Vianney with regards to what’s currently going on.”

 

Felix Sutherland

“Well the ones that I’ve spoken to, the ones who are here are of the view that it is time to get on and do the business of education.  They are of the view that a lot had been accomplished in the eleven-day strike.  There are a number of initiatives that are directly related to the strike and in their opinion it was a win for Belize and for the union and it is time to get back to work.”

 

The representative body for a majority of primary school teachers maintains that its position is lawful and reasonable.

 

Luke Palacio

“We are right.  The rules are there and the most essential thing that must be born in mind is that if somebody takes you off your vacation they are to compensate you.  The labor laws are clear, we should be on holiday.  Why are you forcing us to work, granting compensation for whatever reason because the salaries were not docked and so if it means that we have to go back to court to get an interpretation on this matter because you would not take anybody, be it a public officer, be it even somebody at your house, a domestic that you employ.  If the labor law says that that person should get two weeks vacation and you bring in that person before that two weeks are over you must compensate the person.”

 

Tanesha Ross

“As a staff here at All Saints, our teachers are quite committed and so they know their responsibilities as educators and I’m trusting that based on that knowledge they are going to be acting tomorrow.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“What are your thoughts as a principal on the idea of making up time for the eleven days that were lost to strike action in October?”

 

Tanesha Ross

“Well making up the time was really not an issue for us because before the strike took place in October we were giving more than what we had scheduled for in terms of our time table where we started classes at eight and we ended half an hour later.”

 

At St. Martin’s de Porres School this afternoon, the number of students showing up for classes waned considerably from fifty-five this morning to eighteen, while the complement of twenty-seven teachers was only short by seven. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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