Teaching Service Commission (TSC) chairman Elizabeth Crouch is describing as categorically untrue statements made by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha in a pre-action protocol letter sent to the TSC and the Education Ministry on Thursday.
The letter claimed an unlawful and unconstitutional change to the method of recruiting teachers.
In the letter signed by attorney Kiel Taklalsingh and e-mailed on Thursday, the Maha Sabha is claiming the change in the recruitment process for primary school teachers excludes input from the denominational boards in contravention of the long-standing Concordat.
The Concordat is a pre-independence agreement signed between the Government and the heads of the various religious denominations on terms in which those boards of education would run schools with assistance from the Government.
Under the agreement, applications to the teaching service are submitted, in the first instance, to the respective denominational boards which examine them, assess the candidates by way of an interview, and forward the recommended candidates, to the permanent secretary in the Education Ministry for final action.
The letter said this process “allows the denominational board to conduct its own due diligence to determine whether applicants meet the requirements for, among other things, assuring the preservation and character of its denominational schools as guaranteed by the Concordat.”
The Maha Sabha says the commission, in a letter dated November 25, 2022, indicated that it had already made “a policy decision in September 2021, which was issued by the Ministry of Education by public notice, that it would cease accepting unsolicited applications and would treat only with applications in response to vacancies.
“As such, the commission, after careful consideration of the matter has decided to advertise the office of Teacher I (primary) in order to establish a list of suitable candidates.”
According to the pre-action protocol letter, the denominational boards were further advised that they will then be required to select from the order of merit list, generated solely by the Ministry of Education, to fill vacancies in their schools.
The Maha Sabha's attorneys who also include Karuna Maraj, Rhea Khan, Stefan Ramkissoon and Dinesh Rambally who are calling on both Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Crouch to comply with the clear terms of the Concordat, and immediately revert to the settled practice.
The Maha Sabha attorneys promised legal action in 14 days if this alteration to the recruitment practice is not reversed.
However, Crouch described what was said as being categorically untrue. She said the commission supports Article 4 of the Concordat in every respect.
“At every stage of this process, boards will be given full rights to make their recommendations and to choose teachers of their choice and of their faith for their schools. This has already been communicated to the boards in writing, and all boards have the commission’s letter of assurance that all the rights that they currently enjoy will continue to be theirs.”
Crouch said the main difference in the hiring practices, as outlined by the commission, is that it had been opened to the public.
“This is an open, transparent process where all Trinidadians are given the opportunity to apply. It’s an open application process, not a closed one, and it is one which has become digitalised. It’s an online application taking us into digital transformation, and setting up for a better way of handling teachers’ records.
“So what is being stated that the TSC is imposing anything on the boards is categorically untrue, and we have this in writing to all boards giving them that assurance.
“The commission acts with integrity, fairness, transparency, and accountability to the citizens of TT, and in no way is any board finding itself facing any kind of imposition. All we have done is made the process open and transparent.”
Crouch said the pre-action protocol letter and the letter sent to the boards were being reviewed by legal counsel.
Gadsby-Dolly said she had received the letter, and the ministry’s legal team was reviewing it.
The relevant section of the Concordat, which can be found on the ministry’s website under Policy Documents, says, “The right of appointment, retention, promotion, transfer and dismissal of teachers in primary schools will rest with the Public Service Commission.
“A teacher shall not be appointed to a school if the denominational board objects to such an appointment on moral or religious grounds. Similarly, if a teacher is found to be unsatisfactory on these very grounds, moral or religious, the denominational authority shall have the right to request his removal to another school after due investigation.
“For these reasons, it is proposed (provided the legal and constitutional arrangements allow) that vacancies as they occur in all schools should be advertised, and applications submitted in the first instance to the respective board of management which will examine them and forward them all, with their recommendations, to the Public Service Commission for final action.”