Paid extra lessons at T&T school leads to lockout by authorities

(Trinidad Express) Teachers and pupils of the Dayanand Memorial Vedic School in Penal were on Monday locked out of the school compound by authorities who learnt that extra lessons were being held on the compound for a fee.

Balram Ramdial, secretary of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha (APS), which administers the school, said he took the decision to do this based on a directive by the Ministry of Education which prevents State teachers from accepting money to give lessons on the school’s compound.

Ramdial said, “The principal was informed on Wednesday last week that the school would not be used to give any lessons where fees are charged. This is in keeping with regulation from the Ministry of Education that if lessons have to be given it must be given free.”

Ramdial added, “I sent a letter to the school security informing them that the school would not be available to be used to be giving any lessons. Yet they still informed the teachers and parents and students to turn up there.”

Two years ago a pupil of the school topped the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination. This year, two pupils were in the top 100 performers, and another APS school, Gandhi Memorial Vedic School, had seven students who scored over 95 per cent in the SEA exam.

Ramdial said he was certain the lessons were not being given for free.

“I am aware that these teachers charge. I have reports from parents that they charge. And this is contrary to regulation,” he said.

A senior school official disputed this, saying the lessons were free of charge.

The Ministry of Education on Monday confirmed the policy saying that teachers cannot use the school for extra lessons which require them to be paid. Yolanda Morales, communications specialist in the Ministry of Education, said “In a case like this, the board is the owner of the property outside of school hours. So these lessons cannot take place there without the authorisation of the board. If the board did not grant permission these classes cannot take place at the school”.

Ramdial said that parents were afraid to speak out against the issue for fear of their children being victimised in the classroom.

“I spoke to some parents and they said they are afraid to write letters because the children would be victimised by the teachers. This is a long ongoing thing. This is not happening now. Now as it is holidays and I find it most opportune now to stop it and let them make alternative arrangements. I have no problem with that,” he said.

Ramdial said he was firm on the board’s position regarding the issue. He said the issue arose last year and earlier this year, but the board backed down.

“The children were preparing for SEA so I could not stop it like that. But now when they had applied (for lessons during this vacation) I told them we will not allow the school to be used if you are charging the parents.

“It is a general policy from the Ministry, which can be verified by any supervisor from the Ministry of Education,” he said.

President of the school’s Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA), Rory Bharath, said on Monday he and some 35 other parents signed a petition appealing to the board to use the school compound, giving the assurance the lessons would be given for free.

Bharath said, “The teachers said in the petition we sent today that no charges would be attached.”

The petition which was addressed to the board stated that “Our children need remedial classes with their respective class teachers. We are willing to take the responsibility that go along with this decision. We wish that the school be made available for their use in the interest of their comfort and critical safety. We are aware that no charges are attached. Our students would be at a great disadvantage if they were to be displaced at such a late stage.”

Bharath said that Ramdial’s locking down of the school was “not proper protocol” because only the principal of the school has the authority to instruct the security guard and no other person. He also said that APS board has no prior knowledge of such a letter and actions taken on their behalf.

When the Express spoke to Ramdial he had not yet received the petition from the PTA.

“This time the board is not going to back down. Nobody gives their services free. There is always a cost attached,” he said.

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