Classes at Orange Walk Technical High School, a government-owned and aided secondary institution in that municipality, were temporarily disrupted this week when a large portion of student body and more than half the teachers walked out of classes at the start of the day on Monday.
Things at the school had been brewing for a while between the teachers and students, who have a list of concerns, and Elizabeth Muschamp, the school’s principal who had suspended a student after she claimed that she saw the girl drink the contents from a cup in which a teacher had poured something on Carnival Day in Belize City.
That student in question had been out of classes for a month after she was forced to withdraw. The status of that withdrawal, however, changed on Tuesday.
She was allowed to return following an impromptu meeting that same afternoon when Minister of Education, Patrick Faber, arrived at the school to mediate the matter.
His presence helped because everyone agreed to resume classes the following day, while the concerns were being addressed through the proper processes.
Faber said Wednesday that the teachers and students had demanded the immediate replacement of Muschamp, because they did not approved of her management style.
Some teachers thought that she was unfair with assigning work schedules and also because she had been making single-handed decisions without proper consultations.
Others thought that Muschamp was not operating transparently, referring to records of a fund-raiser in 2011, which she was accused of not providing to them.
Still others felt that Muschamp’s husband had no business on the compound on which they say he visited every day.
The students, for their part, were upset that they were forced to eat at a lunch area that was not adequately fitted with seating facilities.
On the other hand, the meeting also identified quite a great deal of good that Muschamp had accomplished in her one year at the school.
There were a minority of students, and to a lesser extent, teachers, who did not support the walk-out and eventual protest against Muschamp. Some said that she had worked tirelessly to improve the general aesthetics of the compound, while others said that she cared enough to purchase food personally for those who needed.
The day’s events lasted for roughly three hours, as police guarded the entrance to the compound as many of the students stood outside bearing placards declaring their disgust with Muschamp.
The 27 of 47 teachers who opposed her style had signed the list of concerns that they produced and showed the Minister, who in turn, said that the Ministry has given the school’s management two weeks to organize a full board of directors that will be responsible to conduct the day-to-day running of the school’s operations and make decisions where necessary concerning those operations.
It has also availed the District Education Officer to visit the school and assist in getting the new board and the school’s management on the same page.
The student who was suspended has also maintained her innocence, saying that she did not drink liquor on Carnival Day. Supported by her mother, she claims that the contents of the foam cup that Muschamp saw her with were chips for a young child whom she was helping to care for during the road march.
The teacher who was with her on that day, she said, has clarified that he never gave her liquor to drink, but his story and hers were ignored.
The Minister later announced that a new Board of Directors would deal with the student’s case separately from the school’s problems.