Lawmakers split on disciplinary process for teachers in JTC Bill

Publication Date: 
Friday, July 8, 2022

Education Minister Fayval Williams is chair of the joint select committee reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill. Members of the joint select committee reviewing the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill on Thursday struggled to find consensus on a recommendation by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) to determine how complaints against educators are handled.

The committee deliberated for more than an hour on whether to accept the teachers’ union proposal to categorise complaints so that matters related to registration or licensing are dealt with by the council while issues that fall under Regulation 55 of the 1980 Education Regulations are dealt with by school boards.

Regulation 55 sets out eight circumstances under which disciplinary action may be taken against a teacher, including improper conduct while in school, neglect of duty, inefficiency, irregular attendance, persistent unpunctuality, lack of discipline, and such other conduct as may amount to professional misconduct.

The JTA also recommended that an educator should only be brought before one enquiry for a complaint.

Part VIII of the JTC Bill, which speaks to investigation, disciplinary enquiry, and action (powers of investigation), proposes several different avenues to deal with complaints against an educator.

Clause 51, which sparked contention, instructs the teaching council, upon receiving a complaint, to refer the complaint to the education ministry or school board for an investigation or to conduct its own enquiry.

The JTA’s recommendations were premised on the fact that the JTC Bill does not make provisions for the establishment of a disciplinary committee.

As a result, it said that the education minister can arbitrarily designate persons from the council to investigate a complaint.

Added to that, the JTA noted that Clause 51 creates the possibility for an educator against whom a complaint has been brought to be called before more than one enquiry or become the subject of several simultaneous investigations.

The JTA said that a respondent educator should not have to appear in multiple places to defend against disciplinary proceedings for the same complaint because this can be time-consuming and expensive.

Committee member Kavan Gayle seemingly sided with the JTA that a distinction ought to be made in the bill so that the council deals with disciplinary matters related to registration and licensing while school boards deal with breaches at that level.

“They want it to be very clear that matters related to the rules of the school, the operations of a teacher, the conduct of a teacher is dealt with at a different level at the school board and there is no interference of the council itself in treating with these matters,” said Gayle.

However, member Ransford Braham disagreed with that recommendation, noting that it undermined the authority of the council.

“If you go and put in a section that says matters of contract and teacher behaviour on the job is for the school board, you may find that it is denying the council a power to deal with matters that fall under [Clause] 51 that overlap in contractual issues,” he said.

But his counterpart, Lambert Brown, disagreed, noting that making a distinction would merely be reaffirming the school board’s authority at that level.

However, Braham was steadfast in his position that there should be no adjustments.

Natalie Campbell Rodriques then conceded that committee members were not au fait with the contents of the Education Regulations and as a result, this was creating some confusion in deliberating on the JTC Bill.

“We’re talking around the issue because we’re not aware of what exists there. We’re only seeing what is in here (JTC Bill). The reference keeps going back to what we think is missing, but it is in the Education Act,” she said.

Ultimately, committee chair Fayval Williams said that the ministry’s technical and legal team would revisit both legislation and come up with a solution for the next sitting.

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