Owen Speid, President, Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA)

Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, Jamaica – Charging that some school boards and principals have been vindictive in dismissing teachers, knowing full well that it will take years before appeals are heard, Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Owen Speid has made a renewed call for that body to move with alacrity.

“We are in a situation now where we have 32 cases that are outstanding, and 14 of those cases are out there from early 2017 and we have not gotten dates for these hearings as yet, so we need some more speed on the teachers’ appeals. We can’t continue like this,” Speid told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

According to the JTA president, the Teachers’ Appeal Tribunal, which acts as a final court for dismissed or suspended teachers and principals, has been slow in addressing the cases.

“What we have obtaining is that we have too many teachers who are there languishing for in excess of three years before they even get a date for the hearing. We have teachers who have gone three years and maybe about five months and we cannot get a date for the hearing to take place,” Speid complained.

“These teachers have been severed from their jobs, sometimes prematurely by egotistical boards or principals who carry out their dismissals without seeking to get any form of mediation involved, and so many a times these teachers and sometimes principals are dismissed unfairly.

“We have had many, many instances where the teachers have been fired, out there for years without a salary, and then when it goes to the tribunal the case is overturned and the teacher is returned to the job. But in the interim their families would have suffered immensely and sometimes even the schools suffer because sometimes these are teachers who are vital, holding vital positions, in terms of teaching certain specialist subject areas,” Speid said.

A case in point, he said, is the storm now brewing at Mona High School in St Andrew.

“At Mona High School right now we have reports from six teachers who have been taken to the board to go to disciplinary hearing at the end of this month. We have not had any reason to believe, and we have not had any evidence that this particular school has sought mediation. Most of these teachers have carried that school to be the number one upgraded high school in Jamaica, and they were like the senior teachers and supervisors for grades. These people are being brought before the board simply because they refuse to carry out the instructions of using the finger-printing machines they had up there,” Speid said.

Stressing that “these things need to be said, so that people know the issues that sometimes lead to teachers being fired”, the JTA president said impure motives were at the root of some of the dismissals.

“Because these principals know that the Teachers’ Appeal Tribunal is going to take three and four years before the case is actually heard, even if they know that they erred in following due process and ensuring that natural justice is observed, and so on, even though they are in breach they will still terminate the teachers because they know it is going to take years for the tribunal to hear the appeal,” he charged.

“So they carry out their acts of victimisation, and what you find out is that many of the school boards just rubber-stamp what the principals desire and they know it is already punishment for the teacher. Even if the teacher wins at the tribunal, there is a lot of punishment that goes on in-between and suffering for the families of these teachers,” Speid stated.

The JTA head said the issue was the subject of heated discussion at last Wednesday’s monthly meeting between the Ministry and the association. He said despite there being promises that the tribunal would be refocusing on the matters, the JTA was tired of promises.

“We are calling on the Teachers’ Appeals Tribunal, yes we hear now that they have put the tribunal in place recently; it was not up for a good period of time and we are happy we are hearing them say the cases will be tried,” he said.

“Very importantly, we would like them to get to a stage where, if it is that the board is at fault in presenting the requisite documents to the tribunal for the cases to be heard speedily, then we are asking that we come to a point where those cases are thrown out in favour of the teacher and we are looking at a time period of maybe nine months to a year,” he told the Observer.

Speid is proposing that if matters take more than a year to be heard, through no fault of the teacher or the JTA, the case should be dismissed.

“It means the teacher would have suffered without salary for a period of over nine months or a year. If the teacher is reinstated, then the retroactive salaries would be paid, but we are saying it is too much emotional stress on the teachers and their families. There must be something in the revised Code of Regulations that stipulates that if the matter is not heard within a year something should be enshrined so that the teachers’ rights are protected,” he added.

According to Speid, the JTA is “finding out that many of the times the principals and boards are erring” in their decisions.

“Some of these people take on god-like persona and they behave as if they own the school. When we go to the ministry for meetings and we are discussing this particular matter all we are hearing is sweet talk; there is a lot of sweet talking going on and we need to get past this now,” Speid said.

“Teachers are hurting. Just imagine 32 outstanding cases. We need to let the Teachers’ Appeal Tribunal know that we are not in a mood to have them dragging their feet while our members and their families suffer,” he said further.

In the meantime, he is urging the leadership of schools to consider mediation before dismissals.

“That is one area that is underutilised. So, six teachers are before the board at Mona High now, but there was no mediation done. If they had said to us, we are having these challenges with these members of yours, we would have gone in and said, let us see how we can work this out and try to get it together so they can operate in a less toxic environment, but the principals are not in a hurry to mediate; they are in a hurry to dismiss. They prefer termination over mediation and I think they are going the wrong way,” the JTA president said.