So what’s going on?

With the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd, and without minimizing this horrific act in any way, I cannot help but draw some interesting contextual comparisons to the case of Dr Tucker v the Board of Education (see YouTube recording).

It’s obvious this policeman put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and held it there for 8mins and 46secs because he believed it was “ok” to do so and he believed he would get away with it even though it was being recorded. His actions reflect a long-standing and pervasive culture of brutality against Blacks in the US.

In Dr Tucker’s case, this PS’s flagrant disregard for impartiality and the subsequent response when challenged (ie to go to court) tells us a lot about the culture. Like this policeman, this PS believes it is ok, that her behavior would not be challenged and, even if it were, she believes, she would be supported and hence “get away with it”. Why? Because it is the norm—the accepted culture that goes unchallenged.

With the George Floyd case, if there was no recording, we would be made to believe a completely different story—that George did something terrible to warrant his death. We might ‘accept’ that what happened to George was justified, although we would believe differently in our hearts.

Dr Gina Tucker, FinTech Bermuda

Likewise, if Dr Tucker did not seek a Judicial Review, she would be believing that the decision to choose Mrs Kalmar Richards was “a very difficult one because the scores were so close”. Imagine, this is what Dr Tucker was told by the PS & the HR Manager when she queried exactly where she fell short this time. Think about it, Dr Tucker would be believing what was evidently an outright lie (ie, given the results of the PS’s own Interview Panel). And us? Well we would be believing Dr Tucker lacked something or did something to justify not getting the job when instead, and by all accounts, she was the only qualified candidate.

While George Floyd’s death is an unforgivable and horrific tragedy, we see now that his death had a purpose. It shined a light on a dark place and, as a result, has changed the world by forcing the powers-that-be to address long-standing injustices on Blacks.

And, while I will never understand how Dr Tucker’s case ended up in Supreme Court, it too has shone a light on a long-standing toxic culture for all to see and, due to COVID-19, hear. It too has served a clear purpose. It lets us see exactly what happened and exposes plainly what lawyer Mark Diel suggests has been happening for many years, perhaps decades.

Like one commentator said about the ‘in-your-face’ murder of George Floyd, this too may be a case of: “You could do it…so you did it.” And based on my conversations with many in the Department of Education from teachers to school leaders to current and past Department staff, this behaviour has been blatant for the last several years; experienced first-hand by some (Dr Tucker is one) and observed from the sidelines by many.

Dr Freddie Evans

Like me, you must be asking how and why this PS would even think she could get away with this behaviour this time. One would think the debacle with Dr Evans would have made her think twice. But as we know, “culture” is strong and clearly it did not. Now, her conduct is being ‘publicly’ challenged in the courts. Why? Because no one would address it. I guess we will have to wait and see if there will be any accountability for this PS regardless of the outcome of this case.

And, why did thousands take to the streets over George Floyd’s murder? Many would say it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That moment when ‘enough is enough’. I suspect Dr Tucker’s decision and determination to challenge this behavior is for this very reason.

She herself has either been a victim of this behavior too many times before or she has observed it with too many other educators too many times before. And, while many know and talk about it, few stand up against it. I’m sure it took tremendous courage, but Dr Tucker stood up this time. I must admit, I rather admire her for this because I know far too many who have not taken a stand in their own situations.

Valerie Robinson-James, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education

But let’s be for real, Dr Tucker must be bewildered by the continued refusal of the Board and the PSC to admit the obvious wrongdoing by the PS. Their determination to use some legal game to convince us that what we see “on the video” is not real is astonishing and only serves to further underscore the pervasiveness and acceptance of the PSs behaviour.

Quite frankly, I am not exactly sure how to take their respective positions in this case. Their vigorous defense of the PSs actions suggests they support this culture and the notion that the PS can ignore the legislation and do whatever she likes when appointing persons.  Mr Horsefield, lawyer for the PSC, stated that ‘it doesn’t matter what process was used and that Mrs. Richards only fell short by a little bit—no big deal.’ Imagine! Are we now a Banana Republic where anything goes, and where standards are not important and can be side-stepped or overlooked?

This is Education we are talking about; Bermuda’s future and the people ultimately responsible for ensuring the success of our young people, and by extension Bermuda. Much is at stake. Who will as they say, “call out” this behaviour and demand “just” accountability in the name of that future? Do Black lives really matter? It’s obvious the PSs flagrant disregard for both the Act and impartiality is of no concern to the PSC. It is this mindset that not only gives license to this PSs behavior but sends a clear message to all other PSs in the civil service.

So, what’s going on?

I’m sure you know exactly what’s going on. It’s time to call it for what it is. The PS’s actions speak to that unwritten but fully embraced “recruitment and appointment” policy better known as the “FRIENDS and FAMILY” policy. This policy ensures persons who are “liked” get the job—irrespective of their qualifications and/or competence—or, on the flip side, it ensures persons who are “not liked” don’t get the job by either leaving the post vacant or by filling it with someone who clearly lacks the necessary skillset.

It’s no secret this policy is prevalent in the civil service and many believe its Dr Tucker’s “inability” to adopt it that is preventing her from “getting the job”—at least under this PS. But, and again based on the stories I am hearing; she is not alone. This policy has prevented many of Bermuda’s talented educators from getting positions for which they were qualified, ably trained, and rightly deserved. In fact, and quite sadly, this policy has caused many to just give up and not even apply anymore simply because they know they’re “not liked” by ‘somebody’. In effect, this policy is probably at the core of what has prevented the education system from moving forward for years. If Black lives really matter, it’s time we come to the realization that upholding a policy like this will be at the demise of our system—killing it slowly but surely if it has not already. It must come to a swift and deliberate end.

To be honest, no one would be surprised that the PS would want to apply this policy in the appointment of the Commissioner. Of course, she wants the person she “likes” to get the job. And surely Dr Tucker could see that the PS “liked” or preferred Mrs. Richards. This was obvious when she (the PS) refused to permit Dr Tucker to act as COE and instead left the post vacant for 3 months before appointing Mrs. Richards to act. Having been shortlisted in 2016, I can only imagine how this made Dr. Tucker feel and how it looked to all who worked within the Department. As the saying goes, “the writing was on the wall” in big bold letters for all to see.  Now, would you apply for the post in these circumstances? Many would not have, and I bet the PS was hoping Dr Tucker would ‘read the sign on the wall’ and not apply.

Nevertheless Dr Tucker, not giving up on her career dream and aspirations, submitted her application for the job. She had no choice but to trust that the PS would do as her role obliged which is to ensure the “impartiality” due all the applicants. This is not hard to do, it just requires that you sincerely want to do it. Nevertheless, the Board and PSC insist Dr Tucker was treated fairly. However, as another famous saying goes, “a blind man can see” that the process orchestrated by the PS (see Part 1) lacked both fairness and best practice on many levels.

The question now is how will the powers-that-be (whoever they are) respond to this behavior and this situation this time.

So what’s going on?

June Love (pen name) is a community activist and mother of two Black boys. She cares deeply about public education and the role it plays in Bermuda’s future. A product of the public-school system, Ms Love is an advocate for public school education but feels the current system leaves much to be desired. Having served on the PTA Executive for several years, she is an active parent who is extremely involved in her sons’ education. Involvement in this space has enlightened her about why the current system “misses the mark”. Education is key to Blacks having a life that matters. If Black lives truly matter in this island, then “matters of public-school education” should matter to us all. With vested interest, Ms Love will explore what’s really going on in public education in Bermuda.

  • Top Feature Photo: People inspired by a speaker raise their hands during a Caribbean-led Black Lives Matter rally at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, Sunday, June 14, 2020, in New York – Protests have grown and continued since the May 25 death of George Floyd