Teachers outside Basseterre High School
By Toni Frederick
BASSETERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- The St Kitts Teachers Union has labelled a move by the Ministry of Education to discipline the principal of the Basseterre High School (BHS) as “vindictive” and it says it will move to industrial action if action is taken against the over 30-year teaching veteran.
During negotiations in April over the closure and relocation of the BHS due to environmental safety concerns, BHS principal Carlene Morton refused to sit in on a ministry of education meeting in the absence of representation by the union on behalf of her staff.
Morton told WINN FM that she made the decision as a show of solidarity with her teachers, and went to the meeting venue, where she indicated to the acting minister of education Marcella Liburd that, with respect, she would not be staying if the teachers were not represented.
The union had been present at a stakeholders meeting the day before, April 28, which was to have continued on the 29, and she said it was unthinkable that, after their participation in previous meetings, at that stage of the discussions, and at such a critical time, they would be excluded.
According to the principal, she gave her explanation, expressed her regrets and before she left, Liburd told her she was sorry that she felt that way.
Morton said that not only was she the principal, but she was also the general secretary of the union, and to exclude the body "was undermining the principles on which unions are based."
WINN FM was later told by a ministry official that the meeting was with the principals of the other institutions involved with a shift system that was subsequently implemented to accommodate the BHS students.
WINN FM understands that the ministry of education has given Morton until the end of the week to explain in writing, why she should not be brought before a disciplinary committee.
The following statement was issued on Tuesday morning by the St Kitts Teachers Union:
The General Council of the St Kitts Teachers’ Union (SKTU), at an Extraordinary Meeting held on June 30, 2014, has unanimously denounced the action of the Ministry of Education in its attack on our General Secretary Mrs Carlene Henry-Morton. The General Council has taken note with great displeasure of the Ministry’s pronouncement of misconduct in a letter to Mrs Morton.
The St Kitts Teachers’ Union (SKTU) has adopted a resolution to give full support to its General Secretary Mrs Carlene Henry-Morton, Principal of the Basseterre High School. The SKTU has reviewed that events leading up to...what the Ministry of Education describes as “misconduct” by Mrs Morton and has concluded that Mrs Morton actions were professional, [respectful] and principled.
We believe that our General Secretary, who has served as a teacher with distinction for over 32 years, acted in good conscience and in the best interest of the parents, teachers, students and her Union. Mrs Morton was the 2013 recipient of the Excellence In Teaching Award in recognition of her outstanding leadership as a principal. The SKTU views the actions of the Ministry of Education as vindictive, unprofessional and lacking regard for the rights of teachers.
The SKTU believes that this is simply a case of victimization, taken by the Ministry because of the principled stance by Mrs Morton in supporting her teachers and the Union in bringing the Ministry of Education to address the health issues at the Basseterre High School. Mrs Carlene Henry-Morton has been an excellent model of good leadership and continues to provide such in this crisis at her school.
The SKTU has therefore resolved to provide full support to Mrs Morton including but not limited to legal representation. The St Kitts Teachers’ Union views the actions of the Ministry as an attack on trade unionism and on quality education and will do all in its power to bring this to the attention of our regional and international affiliates. The SKTU has also resolved, and is hereby giving notice, that it will take National Industrial Action against the Ministry of Education if any action is taken against our General Secretary, Mrs Carlene Henry-Morton.
The Ministry of Education’s continued refusal to genuinely and meaningfully engage the Teachers’ Union to resolve the dispute, the action of exclusion from meetings, their disregard for our Union rights, and their disrespect and disdain for the Union means that we have no alternative other than to demonstrate the seriousness of our concerns. Industrial action is always a last resort for our teachers and we deeply regret the fact that we have been put in a position whereby we have no alternative. The responsibility for this situation lies fairly and squarely at the door of this intransigent Ministry of Education.
We call upon the Ministry of Education to desist from its harassment of our Union leaders. We sound a clearly warning to the Ministry to refrain from pursuing this evil agenda against Mrs. Morton. It is time for the Ministry of Education to change its attitude to the Union and listen to the genuine concerns of teachers’ representatives. The St Kitts Teachers’ Union will be seeking support from parents' groups and community organisations as it moves into a more serious struggle with the government over these issues.
In conclusion, the SKTU wishes to remind all that there is a greater struggle and it is that of the health and welfare of our teachers and students of the Basseterre High School.
The SKTU is deeply troubled that despite its promises, the Ministry of Education has not shared the recent report from CARIRI with the Union and other stakeholders. The SKTU is concerned that no communication has been shared with the SKTU with reference to the corrective work that is being done at the school. This does not support the agreement and need to establish transparency, mutual trust and respect and rebuild confidence in the Ministry. We call on the Ministry of Education to deal with the real issues at our school and allow for proper dialogue and a collaborative approach to resolve these serious health issues.
Liburd indicated to WINN FM on Monday that the matter is fully in the domain of the ministry of education under Minister Nigel Carty.
Several calls, messages and emails to the Carty over the past six weeks on a number of matters pertaining to his ministry, including a message over the past weekend have not been responded to.
WINN FM has been unable to contact Morton for a comment.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network