Education Minister Diallo Rabain today rejected the vote of no confidence in Commissioner of Education, Kalmar Richards and the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Valerie Robinson-James.

The Bermuda Union of Teachers (BUT) announced its vote of no confidence last Friday following a series of decisions and strategies, including the handling of training for standards-based grading.

In a statement released just after 7am this morning, the Minister responded urging the union to “come to the table”.

But in the interim, he said: “I reject the Bermuda Union of Teachers’ (BUT) vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Permanent Secretary of Education, Valerie Robinson-James and the Commissioner of Education, Kalmar Richards.

“The recent action by the BUT is unfortunate and reinforces the need for continued direct dialogue, collaboration and renewed focus on what is best for our children.

“In the interest of enhanced communication and understanding, the Ministry of Education requests that the BUT provide clarity on the issues of concern.”

The statement continued: “Prior to the media announcement, the BUT had not made the Ministry aware of the “series of decisions” about which they are dissatisfied.

“The Ministry wishes to bridge the gap of misunderstanding and seeks the opportunity to work with the BUT to discuss their concerns openly, and work towards a solution jointly with Department of Education staff.

“The BUT have had several meetings with the Ministry and the Department of Education. Since concerns were brought forward regarding Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in October 2018, we have held ongoing meetings with the BUT. The BUT’s concerns about SBG and other matters have also been addressed during monthly Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) meetings.

“The BUT have also been given a forum to have concerns addressed via the Department of Labour between December 2018 and February 2019, as recent as Wednesday, 20 February, 2019. No concerns were expressed during these meetings or via other communication.

“The BUT has stated, via the media, that there have been no measures put into place to address the length of time that it takes for PowerSchool to respond when teachers input grades. In a letter sent from the Department of Education to principals and teachers on of 8 February, 2019 included the following statement, “Our IT Team has put a solution in place to address technology concerns related to length of time that it takes for PowerSchool to respond when grades are being entered.”

“The interim solution expressed in the letter refers to a system where school staff have access to the Department of Education’s PowerSchool Administrator who is available to give support as needed. In the meantime, The Department of Education is preparing for the provision of more specialised technical support for teachers. The Department has received a list of teachers who assist schools with technical matters pertaining to PowerSchool and will assign these candidates to assist on a more permanent basis.

“As it relates to the letter sent to principals and teachers on 8 February, 2019 in relation to Standards-Based Grading, a draft of the letter was sent to the BUT General Secretary and president on 7 February, 2019 prior to the letter being sent out to principals and teachers. There was no response from the BUT, nor were any concerns raised by the BUT, prior to the letter being sent out.

“The expectations outlined for teachers in the letter of 8 February, 2019 are compatible with where we are as a system. We are transitioning to a Standards-Based Grading in our schools — the expectations outlined for teachers take into consideration their concerns and where we are now in relation to becoming a SBG system. It has also been communicated to principals and teachers that this is an interim measure until the end of the school year. This decision was made based on what is best for children and after considering many critical factors.

“Further, the letter that was sent to Principals and Teachers on 8 February, 2019 was shared with the external consultant who provides advisement to the SBG Steering Committee. It was during the teleconference held with the Permanent Secretary of Education, Commissioner of Education and the Chairperson of the SBG Steering Committee on 18 February, 2019, that the external consultant advised us that we should proceed with this interim measure until the end of the school year.

“At this juncture, we call on the BUT to place children first and to ensure parents receive progress reports in hand on 8 March, 2019.

“We call on the BUT to identify the “series of decisions” which have caused them concern and to come to the table to work with the Department of Education to resolve them.

“We also wish to advise the BUT and the public that when we make system level decisions, we will make them based on what we know and believe is best for children.”