by Jada Chambers
About two dozen teachers gathered outside the Ministry of Education yesterday, March 16 seeking direction about their return to the classroom after a judge ruled on Monday, March 13 that they had never ceased to hold the posts to which they had been appointed.
High Court Judge, Esco Henry said in her judgement that the 2021 COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate, which deemed them to have abandoned their jobs because they refused to take the jab, is “unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra vires, disproportionate and tainted by procedural impropriety.”
Grade 2 Teacher of the Kingstown Preparatory School, Jeanell James was one of the teachers gathered outside the offices of the Ministry of Education yesterday. She told SEARCHLIGHT that on Wednesday, March 15, dismissed public sector workers were advised by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union and the Public Service Union to report to the workplaces to which they were assigned up to the point of their dismissal.
“The reason for that as was outlined in the meeting … is that according to Section 6 of the ruling that can be found on page seven, we are still entitled to hold our positions; and so upon reporting for duty today, I spoke with the principal because we were directed to report to our supervisors … so the principal directed that we proceed to the Minister of Education and speak to the permanent secretary,” James related.
“… in our presence, she called the permanent secretary and told him to expect us ….” She said two other teachers from the school were also victims of the mandate.
James said during a meeting with the permanent secretary Myccle Burke, he advised her that he cannot tell them to report for duties, neither can he tell them not to report for duties.
“So I asked if we were going to get a written letter communicating the position of the Attorney General’s office because he said that he was simply communicating the information that was asked of him [which is] to be passed on to us from the Attorney General’s Office.
“He said that he will communicate to the Attorney General’s office that we would like to get something in writing, then he went on to say that he cannot guarantee that it will be given, that is to say he cannot say whether or not it will be granted in writing, and he finally concluded by saying that whatever action we take, it must be done… within the confines of the law. “James said that her next step is to communicate what she learnt to the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and await instructions from them as to how to proceed.
Anne-Marie Ballantyne, a teacher of the St Grammar School, also spoke with SEARCHLIGHT about finally being re-instated after more than a year of being dismissed from her duties.
“I got a letter last February, a dismissal letter claiming that I am deemed to have resigned from my job and basically that I have abandoned my job. We know that is not so.
“Today, I am very glad without going back to too many things in the past right now. I want to celebrate the victory that we have had, that that letter is now void… It is unconstitutional and it is a breach of natural justice and I am glad that the judge has done the right thing in doing so. “
Ballantyne said that after reporting for duty on Thursday, she communicated with the principal who gave instructions to report to the Ministry of Education.
“I have seen the permanent secretary, Mr Burke, and he has said to me … he’s communicating to me the position of the state which is that they have filed an application today … an application for a stay [of execution of the judgement] and an application for an appeal.
“Basically, that’s the essence of what he said. Of course, I had some questions for him [like] what does that mean for us? He said, ‘Well if they get that stay, it means what the judge has done would be on hold’, but I reminded him [that] they have not gotten that stay yet if they will get it; and so I..[asked] in the meanwhile what are we supposed to do? So he said, ‘well the law is there and the law is clear’.”
Ballantyne said that the permanent secretary also told her that the schools may not have space for all the teachers.
“… I said to him, well that is something that you have to sort out because I’m still employed, so you will have to determine how you deal with that and if you don’t get the space, it obviously means that you are in breach of the law, you will be operating unconstitutionally.”