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Feb 21, 2019

Industrial Action by Teachers at Bishop Martin High School

A sit-out started by seven teachers has morphed into full industrial action by all teachers at the Bishop Martin High School in Orange Walk. Today, the entire teaching staff was outside the classrooms and students headed home by midday without knowing when teachers will return inside. This is on the eve of the critical ATLIB exams that determine whether students are ready to enter tertiary level institutions.  The group of seven teachers, who have not been able to get their status regularized, are getting the support of their colleagues and want action from the school board and Ministry of Education. News Five’s Duane Moody reports. 

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

There were abbreviated classes today at the Bishop Martin High School in Orange Walk and by midday, the campus was empty—all classrooms were locked up and the teaching staff sat inside the staff room at the entrance of the building. For the past two days, almost half of the teaching staff had not shown up to work and today, the entire faculty executed a sit out and did not enter their classrooms. The teachers are at odds with the administration, the board and the Ministry of Education because the status of the seven teachers remains unresolved. Based on the evidence at hand, those teachers do not legally belong in the classroom.

 

Carmen Trejo

Carmen Trejo, Spokesperson for Disgruntled Teachers

“We are taking industrial action. There are many internal issues concerning major irregularities by management directly affecting seven teachers’ documents which are presently affecting our employment history and our status and thus under the education rules, render us illegally employed at this institution.”

 

The unresolved issues go back to over a year when the conflicted teachers approached the school’s management for intervention. The personal files for the teachers have not been updated with the Teaching Services Commission and according to the law; they then should not be in the classroom. Meanwhile, others have yet to receive their letters of employment at the institution and when checks were made, there were missing documents.

 

Carmen Trejo

“We have a teacher here who left his permanent job at another school to come and become a teacher at Bishop Martin High School. He has twelve years of teaching history. Up to right now, he is not legally employed here which means that if his papers don’t come in time, all those twelve years which he has worked will not come towards his pension, raise of pay, broken service; anything that he should benefit from, he will not get. We have teachers who have gotten a letter; they recognize that the teachers are here, but the letters are backdated. They have been working here for three years, but the letter says that you have been working here since this year. This means that the years that they have been working here, three-four years, are not accounted for; are not counted, according to the ministry. This means that we are losing all our benefits and that is from day one; that is if we get a letter stating that we are actually hired teachers here.”

 

Duane Moody

“Where did the breakdown happen? Is the breakdown on the part of the management or at the ministry? Where did the breakdown happen where files are missing and the data is not there?”

 

Carmen Trejo

“It is both the management and the board. Our educational bylaws state that it is the ministry who guides our board and assures that they are doing their job. So it is both of them and it is only both of them that can help us in this situation. Up to now, we have not gotten any written response that our situation is even happening. So we want to at least start with that.”

 

There are mounting concerns as the teachers stand resolute in not returning to the classrooms until the issues are adequately addressed. On Wednesday, the teachers got the support of the Belize National Teachers Union after national president Elena Smith met with them. According to the group, they have only been getting empty words and promises and their fate remains in limbo. Until then the students are most affected.

 

Rozel Arana

Rozel Arana, Teacher, Bishop Martin High School

“On Tuesday the seven teachers did not show up to school. They had a board meeting in the night time and Wednesday they didn’t show up. And we saw a whole list of substitutions on the board and everybody started wondering what really is going on. And so looking at the substitutions, these are teachers who are specialized in different subject areas, Physics. I am a Social Studies teacher, so if I go and substitute for Physics. What do I know about Physics? So all these things started to pile up and we said, you know what, we have to stand in support and after all we are looking at seven teachers.”

 

Carmen Trejo

“We want this issue to be resolved as soon as possible so that we can return to the classroom that we love. Unfortunately, we cannot do so at this point in time because officially our status remains illegal.”

 

According to Chairman Ian Cal, a meeting of the board is scheduled to discuss the issue at hand.

 

Ian Cal

Ian Cal, Board Chairman, Bishop Martin High School

“It’s a serious situation and I want to tell you that we support the teachers with what they are doing. If I was in their show, I think we would do the same. I cannot go into detail because we are reviewing what we are going to do as a board. It is not just the board, but we are working along with the Ministry of Education and the Teaching Services Commission to get this issued resolved. We have met with the teachers and we have explained that to them as well as to where we are and the steps we want to take. We as a board are gonna meet tonight, actually, and we have to come up with plan A and plan B as to what we will do to alleviate their situation. At the end of the day, like I said, the board supports the teachers and we have to look at their best interests, at the best interest of the school and most importantly, at the best interest of the students.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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