“Sickness bug” overwhelms public schools – Additional workload leaves teachers with bitter taste

POSTED: 02/20/13 12:39 PM

St. Maarten – Several teachers have been on sick leave for an extended period and no proper provisions have been put in place to cushion the effects of their absence in schools, the Windward Island Teachers Union (WITU) says. During its weekly press briefing, WITU said that an apparent “sickness bug” has been overwhelming the resources at public schools, and teachers are threatening decisive action if a structured substitution system is not put in place.

“One of the big concerns that have been brought to my attention is a sickness bug that has attacked a number of our professionals. It is either that the Department of Education is turning a blind eye on this development or is disrespectful to the colleagues that are burdened with the splitting up of classes and taking on extra students,” WITU president Claire Elshot said yesterday.

She pointed out that at least 3 schools had made official complaints to the union but there are even more who are being affected. No explanation or apology has been given to the teachers whose workload has doubled, Elshot claimed.

She cited the example of special education students who do not adapt easily to new teachers and the level of preparedness of these types of teachers at short notice.

“This is a situation that has been going on too long in a number of schools and our membership is becoming very concerned”.

Elshot explained that teachers who usually work with teaching plans weekly are being affected because additional students may not  be at the same level of their teaching plan and also takes away from the focus on a systematic teaching plan.

“It is constantly that the burden is being placed not on those who are in authority to find a solution but within the school management itself, they have to make decisions to split up the classes. If a colleague is out for months already, you can imagine that this is becoming worrisome for teachers who have to receive these children on a constant basis.”

Elshot said that the time may soon come when teachers take a stand and refuse to accept additional students in their classes. She said that she has received very strong calls from teachers at the Prins Willem Alexander School, in particular, to take action. She clarified that teachers are not peeved that their colleagues are out sick but rather with the way education officials are approaching the issue.

She added that the union has observed that the Ministry of Education is using “on-call substitutes.”  She said that the union was unaware of the arrangement with these on-call substitutes and whether they come from a pool of substitutes. She said that apart from this, these substitutes are being paid at a lower salary rate which is against the International Labour Organization (ILO). This creates discrimination, Elshot believes.

“An on-call substitute is being paid at a lower rate. At no time in our salary scale did we have a distinction of that function for that substitute to pay them less than a normal classroom teacher.  We will have to research where that policy came from, where is that justified and if we have to challenge it, we will,” the union leader said.

The union plans to request an emergency meeting with the Minister of Education to discuss the matter.

“They come into the schools and make demands on the type of testing and so on but they make no mention at all of what is going on with the teachers. That has already left a bitter taste in our teachers,” Elshot concluded.

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