Sanctions withdrawn against QC teachers in Neesa case

The Ministry of Education yesterday withdrew the sanctions it had issued against teachers at Queen’s College (QC) at the end of the Neesa Gopaul probe and the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) is calling for procedures in all schools to guide teachers when faced with such cases.

“…We are talking about procedures that all teachers must know they have to follow when they have such matters,” GTU President Colin Bynoe said last evening.
He said out of the Gopaul case, the GTU hopes to engage the ministry and the persons concerned to ensure that certain opportunities would be given to teachers around the country for them to appreciate what they need to do in similar circumstances.

In a joint statement last evening, the ministry said following a meeting with the union it had decided to withdraw the letters denying promotions to three teachers of Queen’s College. The statement said that the two parties had “reached agreement that as a result of the disclosure of certain mitigating factors the sanctions dealing with denial of promotion for the three teachers has been withdrawn.”

Neesa Gopaul

The three teachers are Candida Williams, Nadia Hollingsworth and Carol Marks. The letter of demotion sent to former head teacher Friedel Isaacs still stands.
The ministry’s decision followed last week’s announcement by the GTU that it would not be participating in the National Schools Athletics Championships if the letters were not withdrawn. The withdrawal of the sanctions now paves the way for the smooth running of the championships–which open today–as the union has now pledged its full support.

On Thursday last, the GTU had pointed out that there were several procedural irregularities in the Education Ministry’s recent investigation, which found the four QC teachers negligent in the handling of the Neesa Gopaul case. Bynoe had stated that there are binding documents between the union and the ministry which stipulate that the union should have been involved in such an investigation. He questioned how the teachers could have been investigated and not represented in any form. It was pointed out that in every situation, persons are given a chance to be heard and represented but the teachers were not given that opportunity.

Not aware
Meanwhile, Bynoe yesterday said he was not aware that another investigation would be conducted by the ministry in relation to the conduct of the three teachers.  “What I know is that those three letters would be withdrawn and new letters would be sent,” he said.

In relation to Isaacs, Bynoe said “they did not find favour with what we are saying and we will have to advise her differently, so that she can take the necessary actions.” He said Isaacs, who has not commented publicly on the case, must have the necessary knowledge as to what she did or didn’t do compared to what she is being charged with.

Importantly, Bynoe said that it is hoped that the ministry would allow the union to view a copy of its report on the investigation as while the union knew about the charges it did not know what led the investigating team to its conclusion. “The onus is really on Mrs Isaacs to show us what they are saying in relation to the charges and for us to take it from there,” Bynoe said.

He said he met Isaacs last Monday but they did not go in to the detail. But with the new development, the union would seek to meet her after the championships “to see what she has to say and then share our position and support with her.”

Bynoe said the union is not elated over yesterday’s decision but is extremely delighted that the championships can go forward and the support that sponsors gave to them can be realized. He said the teachers had done a good job in bringing Gopaul’s case to fore and “we felt that they were proactive [and] that finally resulted in a reactive position of them being disciplined by the ministry.”

Bynoe said he was “shocked” that no welfare officer or education officer was disciplined in the matter for the simple reason that the plight of the teenager was brought to light more than three school terms before she died. “Are you saying to me that no welfare officer or education officer visited Queen’s College to check records so that they could become aware of this? That is shocking to me,” Bynoe said.

Additionally, he said schools have been asked to supply a record to the school’s welfare department on a monthly basis of  thanks and praise as he was the one who placed her at QC. Marks, who along with Candida Williams had journeyed on a Sunday across the Demerara Bridge last year October to assist the child, who had alerted them that she was badly beaten by her mother, said prayers were many for her as not only her relatives and friends rallied around her but her entire church. She said the recent incident would not deter her from going the extra mile to assist people, especially children, as there is “something planted deep down inside of me that pulls me to always help and I cannot restrain myself from doing something to help others, it is embedded in me.”

Hollingsworth, who is now the acting deputy, told Stabroek News that she was glad that the union and the ministry reached an agreement as the “truth was always out there. I really don’t know what to say… but I think people were being misguided based on our silence on this issue because we thought it would have been unethical to publicly speak on the issue without the consent of our employer, the ministry.”

However, she said while they were led to believe that the ministry would have defended them as they did nothing wrong, instead it turned out that it was not “competent enough to defend us.”

She expressed appreciation for the support of the union and pledged her continued support for it. The same sentiments were expressed by Williams, who said she had no “reaction to the news because I knew I did nothing wrong.”

Timeline

On October 18, 2009, teachers Williams and Marks received a call from murdered teenager Neesa Gopaul. They travelled to her home and took her to the Leonora Police Station and the Leonora Cottage Police Station.

On October 19, 2009, they took her along with her grandparents to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security. The ministry claims that it was on October 29, 2009 that the child was taken there by the teachers. On the same day, the child was removed from her mother’s home and placed with grandparents by the ministry. Shortly after, her grandparents returned her to her mother because she refused to give them more than $8,000 a week for her upkeep and that of her younger sister.

Child care workers did not report reintegration of the children to the director of the Child Care and Protection Agency.

Also in 2009, Neesa Gopaul stopped attending counselling sessions with the ministry. A case worker visited the home with the police but did not get to speak to the child. She later visited QC and despite resistance from Headmistress Isaacs spoke to the child. The officer then concluded that child was in no danger.

It was not until August 24, 2010 that the child came to the attention of the ministry again, following a report of sexual abuse.

The child care officer made four visits to the child’s home but was unable to speak to her but this was never reported to the director.

On September 24, 2010, Neesa Gopaul was reported missing.
On October 2, 2010, Gopaul’s decomposing body was found by picnickers in a suitcase in a creek near the abandoned Emerald Tower nature resort, off the Linden/Soesdyke Highway.

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