On Monday, October 8th, teachers, students and parents of Orange Walk Technical High School (OWTHS) staged a protest against the principal, Elizabeth Muschamp, in front of the institution’s premises. The protest was for her removal following numerous allegations in respect to her attitude and manner of dealing with issues pertaining to the school.
It is no news that tensions were running high ever since the very start of the semester in August of this year when Muschamp became the school’s principal, but it was the recent request for a 17-year-old student to withdraw from the school that prompted the early morning protest. The young girl had been withdrawn after Muschamp had allegedly seen her drinking alcohol almost a month ago.
Reportedly, on September 8th, the student in question, Janine Rhaburn, had left for Belize City to see the Carnival. Whilst there as a spectator, Janine was in the company of a sister, friends and a teacher of the same school.
This was when Mushamp, who also happened to be at the Carnival saw Janine drinking from a foam cup what is alleged to have been alcohol.
On September 13th, Janine’s mother was called in to the principal's office and the decision to ask her to withdraw from school was taken.
Almost a month out of school, Janine continues in her avowal that she had not been drinking as reportedly alleged by Mushcamp, and that the substance contained in the foam cup was chips not alcohol.
Janine’s mother, though not present when the incident occurred, vouched for her daughter stating that she could not have been drinking since Janine suffers from asthma.
So protesting the 'partial expulsion' undertaken by the school principal alone, Janine’s mother came and stood in front of the school as of 7:30 a.m., only to be joined shortly by 32 teachers, a large percentage of the student body, a few concerned parents and displeased school vendors.
Police presence was rapidly noted as the peaceful demonstration carried on. And though passively executed, none of those against the principal were afraid to hold back their thoughts and feeling.The message was clear: Remove the principal!
In their protest, the 32 staffers and students painted a picture of a school leader, who takes no responsibility for her actions.
In a lengthy formal document signed by the teachers and addressed to the Chair Lady of the Board, Enid Morales, the principal is called out as being “unprofessional”. Other allegations within the document including the use of obscene language in the presence of the students, no regard for opinion, and unaccountability of school finance were a few amongst the list.
“We are asking the GOB and everybody who has a say in this institution that we don't want the principal in this institution. That is the ultimate objective," collectively expressed the teachers.
Besides allegations from the teachers, students and parents of Muschamp’s behavior, much discontentment was expressed by the school vendors at a seemingly outrageous fare now imposed.
According to vendors they simply can’t make a profit nor can they increase their selling price to the students. The vendors alleged that they must now pay a fee ranging from $125 to $500 as opposed to $25.00, the standard fee which has been in place for many years.
And while it would have seemed that the majority was in accordance with Muschamp’s removal outwardly blaming her for almost every bad thing happening in the school from the school’s badly kept classrooms to smelly animal feces lying about by the entrance gate, there were a few, who rose to defended her position.
One student shared, “It is unfair how they are treating her after all the good things she has done to make this a better school”. While one parent feared that if Muschamp is removed what will become of the disabled students, who have been accommodated for since Muschamp became the principal.
And while those in her defense and against her were more than willing to voice their opinion through the media, Muschamp refused to speak declining an interview.
At around 10:30 a.m., the teachers held a meeting with the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber. During the meeting, Faber listened to the concerns of the teachers and made it clear to all present that legally he is not authorized to make any decisions on the concerns that they have raised because those decisions are for the Board of Management according to a press release sent out by the Ministry.
At the end of the consultation, it was decided upon that classes should resume on Tuesday, October 9th.
As to whether Janine will be allowed back in school, Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber appealed to the board of directors to give her and her family a hearing in order for her to present her case and receive due process.
Speaking to The Guardian, Minister Faber also explained that he met with the teachers, the principal and the board to work at a way of improving conditions at the school. He explained that under the Education and Training Act there are specific ways by which decisions to remove a principal are taken and the Ministry needs to follow these. He explained that the teachers may have acted prematurely given the fact that the process was not allowed to work. In his talks with the teachers, he was presented with a list of concerns and those were shared with the principal in order to have them addressed. Among the concerns pointed out was the lack of regular staff meetings. Already working on improving this problem, a staff meeting was scheduled for Thursday, October 11th. It was also agreed that there be a meeting with parents to select parent representatives for both the upper and lower schools.
Also an area of concern was the fact that the board of directors was not fully complete with some resignations having taken place in the past and not filled. Work is now being done to have those filled in order for the board have quorum when decisions are taken. This is expected to take place within the next two weeks.
In the end, Minister Faber asked that their be compromise with all parties involved in an effort to resolve the brewing problems at the school.