Features — 12 October 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Orange Walk Technical students and teachers in one-day walkout; Ministry intervenes

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 11, 2012

Students and teachers at Orange Walk Technical High School (OWTHS) staged a walkout from classes earlier this week, charging incompetence and various misbehaviors by the Government-managed school’s principal Elizabeth Muschamp, which resulted in the direct intervention of Minister of Education, Patrick Faber.

Before classes began on Monday morning, October 8, a majority of the school’s students and many of its teachers walked out of their classrooms, demanding Principal Muschamp’s immediate removal.

The protesting students and teachers told reporters on scene that the principal has been overbearing with them on several issues, including not allowing students living in Orange Walk Town to go home to eat but keeping them on the compound where sufficient space has not been established; acting hostilely and using obscene language around students; unlawfully forcing a student whom she accused of consuming alcohol on Carnival Day, October 8, to withdraw from school (she has been out for a month); failing to keep the schoolyard clean, and most seriously, being unwilling to work with her teaching staff as regards the setting of workloads and class subjects and failing to properly account for the school’s finances.

Around 10:00 Monday morning, the chair of the school board and the district education officer chaired a meeting with Minister Faber, who told reporters on Tuesday that while he had not specifically been asked to intervene before Monday – and that it is “probably not normal for the Minister to intervene in a situation like that, at least not that early” – he felt it necessary in this case to “[save] me a lot of headache down the road” to do so now, lest the school’s reputation and the students’ process of learning suffer.

Coming out of the meeting, the principal and her teachers agreed to a staff meeting to iron out their differences, followed by a meeting of the school board, principal and district education officer with the staff later on, and also a meeting with parents. The school would return to normal operations on Tuesday.

The Minister noted that some protesters were “reacting more to emotions than allowing a process to take place,” and said that in the meeting he emphasized due process and procedure as many of the complaints the staff made were matters for the board, which has authority to make decisions in solving the reported problems, and not for him as the Minister; but he said he would “use his influence” to see the matters addressed.

The school’s board of management is not fully constituted and the Minister estimates that within two weeks those missing spaces will be filled, and the board educated on their responsibility by a team from the Ministry, and then the matters raised will be addressed.

According to Faber, the aggrieved teachers told him that “they believed that the principal has some good ideas for the school and has implemented some good practices at the school. They really believe that the lady has some faults, and they wanted her to understand that, and this was kind of conflicting to what they were saying…but, they had to concede that there were some positive things that this principal brought to the school, and once that was established, then I appealed to their better judgment; certainly, even the Board could not eject the principal right away…”

The Minister said that the complaints raised “…could be traced back to the Principal trying to make changes, changes that I would believe all would agree were for the betterment of the school, but the manner in which it was done was not pleasing to everybody. And that comforts me, because it makes me believe that if we have a Board that functions and does what it should do; if we have teachers who are reasonable, who believe and can be objective in terms of their outlook on the principal and again a principal who reciprocates that kind of action toward her staff, then there is a chance for progress to be made…”

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