Efforts by the Bermuda Parent Teacher Student Association (BPTSA) to legally quash reforms implemented by the Ministry of Education were dashed by a Supreme Court ruling handed down today.
Education Minister Wayne Scott held a news conference this afternoon to announce the legal blow administered to the parent/teachers group by the ruling.
Representing the association, Harry Matthie objected to how teacher transfers were conducted in the public schools, in addition to the enactment of new Parent Council Rules, on the grounds that parents were not properly consulted.
Mr Matthie was also seeking to quash the Minister’s decision to appoint the School Reorganisation Advisory Committee (Score) to recommend which should schools should be consolidated or closed.
Justice Stephen Hellman dismissed Matthie’s call for a judicial review on public school transfers and on the establishment of Parent Councils.
Overall, the Minister was pleased with today’s ruling. The dispute, he said, was “now at an end”.
“I am thankful for the decision of the court as it related to transfers and the Parent Council Rules,” said Mr Scott . “On the issue of school reorganisation, any judgment would have been premature in the absence of any decision. Therefore we fully support the adjournment.”
The Minister also said that he is “close to making an announcement on school reorganisation”.
“You should expect to hear from me within the next few weeks, before the end of the current school year.” But he would not be drawn on whether that announcement will include a list of planned school closures.
Asked twice by Bermuda Real if his pending announcement will reveal which school’s Government plans to close, Mr Scott would only say that his announcement will be made soon.
As for today’s ruling, he said: “Ultimately the Supreme Court of Bermuda decided that the ministry had the right to make important changes to the public education system. The decision was definitive and, our actions were in fact lawful.
But Justice Hellman also ruled that the Commissioner of Education would have had to consult with school PTAs before transfer decisions were made, prior to the new legislation introduced in March 2015.
Essentially, that part of the ruling facilitates legal challenges by the BPTSA against the establishment of Score after the Minister had published his final decision on school reorganisation.
Said Justice Hellman: “I shall grant an declaration that prior to March 29, 2015, and as a result of the legitimate expectations on the part of the PTAs of maintained schools recognised by the court in TN Tatem, the Commissioner was required to consult with the PTA of a maintained school before making a decision to transfer a principal to or from that school, or to transfer a teacher to that school, irrespective of whether the transfer was voluntary or involuntary.
“Other than the granting of these declarations the application for judicial review of the transfers is dismissed.”
Matthie’s claim for a judicial review of the establishment of Parent Councils by the 2015 Education (Parent Council) Rules was dismissed. The application for a judicial review of the Minister’s decision to appoint Score was adjourned.
In his ruling, Justice Hellman said:
“I am satisfied that it would be premature to rule on the lawfulness of the consultation process prior to the Minister’s decision as to closure and consolidation.
“I therefore adjourn the hearing of the application for judicial review of the reorganisation, with liberty to either party to restore with 28 days after the publication of the Minister’s final decision on school reorganisation.
“If, within that timeframe, neither party lodges a written application to restore, the application will stand dismissed.”
Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman’s Ruling
Minister’s Full Statement:
Thank you for taking the time to be here today. As you are aware, Justice Stephen Hellman issued a Supreme Court ruling this morning on the matter of Harry Matthie v. the Minister of Education and the Commissioner of Education.
On behalf of the Ministry of Education, I am pleased that this ongoing dispute is now at an end.
Stemming from the 2012 Supreme Court “Ming” ruling, the Minister of Education and the Commissioner of Education were challenged on three “decisions” last year. These were:
i. Principal and teacher transfers;
ii. The Education (Parent Council) Rules 2015; and,
iii. School Reorganisation.
The applications for judicial review of the transfers and the Parent Council Rules were dismissed, and the application for judicial review on school reorganisation was adjourned.
I am thankful for the decision of the Court as it related to transfers and the Parent Council Rules. On the issue of school reorganisation, any Judgment would have been premature in the absence of any decision. Therefore, we fully support the Adjournment. I am close to making an announcement on school reorganisation, and you should expect to hear from me within the next few weeks, before the end of the current school year.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Bermuda decided that the Ministry had the right to make important changes to the public education system. The decision was definitive; and, our actions were in fact lawful.
We look forward to continuing our efforts to improve the public education system and to grow parental involvement in partnership with principals, teachers and parents. The Ministry of Education can better focus its attention on the progressive work to improve parental involvement for improved student achievement.
During the 2015/16 school year, the Ministry made good progress in promoting parental involvement, as we:
i. Engaged PTAs in the recruitment of new principals;
ii. Introduced parent councils to give parents a stronger say in school improvement, school budgeting and other matters important to parents at the school level; and
iii. Established the School Reorganisation (SCORE) Advisory Committee made up of passionate parents, educators and community members to examine the issue of school reorganisation;
We are now following through on our commitment to improve school facilities; inclusive of increasing transparency, by making more information available to parents on the school facility improvement plan.
For the upcoming 2016/17 school year, we will continue to deepen our efforts to improve parental involvement.
I will appoint members to the Parental Involvement Committee – a new advisory body made up of public school parents that will work to improve parental involvement in all public schools. It will give parents stronger voices to make a difference across the public school system.
We will continue to provide support for parent councils and will increase the opportunities for two-way communication with PTAs, parent councils and parents across the public education system.
Throughout our efforts, emphasis will focus on improving schools and student achievement, and we will continue to act with the best interests of our children at heart.
By Ceola Wilson