30 Αυγ 2015

Sener Elcil's historical letter for the English School new scandal


Şener Elcil’s historic letter documenting the processes and the reality of the effort at ideological-political cleansing of English School [from a leftist deputy head] which has as a subtext the attack on the rights of the Turkish Cypriot community in the school..

It’s like the old historical pattern – initially the come for the leftists [as in 1948] and then the other community follows as a target…And this is happening in 2015 by a Board appointed by a government allegedly seeking to reach a solution of the Cyprus problem…
 


Dear Chairperson and members of the Board of the English School,

The grievance procedure against Antonis Antoniou, deputy head at the English school, has been severely blown out of proportion and is now threatening the good governance and reputation of the school. This issue should have been resolved by the school head teacher, the SMT and the ESSA and should never have been transferred to the school board, especially at a time when the Board has many other serious matters at hand to address. As a Board member, I am seriously concerned regarding the management and conduct of the Board of Governors as I am witnessing a number of dangerous developments relating to the above case. This undermines the credibility and reputation of the school, particularly relating to the multicultural ethos of the school and the participation of Turkish-Cypriots students, many of whom come from the northern part of the barbed wire. It is no coincidence that these developments have attracted negative publicity in the headlines, features and commentaries in newspapers in both communities. Moreover, after the recent leakages by Members of the Board, which make unfounded and inaccurate allegations, I have no choice but to put the record straight to accurately inform all Cypriots, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriot regarding the situation in the school.
Firstly, I am of the opinion that the Head teacher and the union (ESSA) have not dealt with this issue properly and have deliberately and unnecessarily transferred it to the Board. I base my opinion on the grievance procedure, the reports written by the Head teacher on 1st of December 2014 and 3rd of August 2015 (please refer to Annex 3) and the ESSA’s position on the matter. The Head teacher’s conduct during this case is unprofessional and seems to be ill-motivated.

In this regard:
  1. Even though the grievance procedure was to be finalized in two weeks, the process was transformed into a vindictive act of vengeance that is dragging on and damaging the school. None of the parties involved, including the head teacher and the ESSA, attempted to properly initiate a process where the accused teacher, Mr. Antonis Antoniou, would receive a written warning or be requested to give a formal apology. It was the obligation of the head teacher, who had just assumed office, with the help of ESSA to make a proper attempt to matters swiftly within September 2014. The efforts made were inadequate and led to failure.  In fact, the closest to a proper investigation was carried out nearer to the time by another Assistant Head teacher found no misconduct.
  1. The complainant Maryenda Stefanou and the witness Mr. Corkhill are both currently serving on the executive committee of ESSA. In order to avoid having a conflict of interest, the trade union should have reached a decision leaving these two members out of the process.
  1. Mr. Corkhill who appears to have issued an e-mail in support of Ms. Stefanou was not present during the exchange where the allegations of misconduct against Antoniou are made.  The allegation of Mr. Corkhill has never been investigated as a grievance procedure and as far as I understand, he has made no complaints. It is therefore highly irregular to include this e-mail as supporting evidence to Ms. Stefanou’s claim. If Mr. Corkhill has a complaint, this should have been made via the normal channels to be investigated in due time and with due diligence.
  1. It is an undisputed fact that the Assistant Head Mr. Antonis Antoniou had very good relations with Turkish Cypriots and in 2003 played a crucial role in the re-enrollment process of Turkish Cypriots to the English School. My investigations have revealed that he is highly revered by the Turkish Cypriot students’ parents. In this framework, even though the school Head teacher insists this is not a political matter, it would be naïve and unrealistic to consider that the claims against Mr. Antoniou would not be politicized. It is a well-known fact that the English School, which serves both Greek and Turkish Cypriot students, is an institution unwanted by fanatic separatists. Moreover, it is apparent that the motivation by some parties derives from their political and ethnic bias against Turkish-Cypriots. Therefore this issue should have been dealt with extra care to avoid giving even the slightest chance to those who wanted to use this matter for political ends.
  1. The Head teacher’s assertion that Mr. Antoniou was the one who leaked information to the press is unfounded. The Head teacher even goes a step further to claim that he is in breach of his professional conduct and recommends separate disciplinary action against him. After investigating the matter, even I, as someone who does not speak Greek, have found out that the story covered in the press was based on the Ombudsman’s report and that Mr. Antoniou had refused to speak to the press. This is clearly stated in the article published by Phileleftheros newspaper on 12th August (please refer to Annex 2). I have confirmed this after having the article translated from Greek to English. Therefore the opinion stated by the Head teacher in Article 4 of his last report is inaccurate and flawed. 
  1. Another unsubstantiated claim in the last report of the Head teacher is in Article 9 of his last report, where he inaccurately attributes every comment appearing in the media on this issue to Mr. Antoniou.
  1. In Article 10 of his last report, the Head teacher refutes information from the press concerning the grievance procedure and states that ESSA is satisfied with the process. In fact, he should have known that the process concerning the disciplinary procedures had to be open, transparent and accountable so as to ensure a fair hearing. Additionally, a list of rules explicitly stating what kind of a penalty each action results in, i.e. a list of disciplinary procedures, should have been available when making a decision about this case. Only in dictatorships or monarchies is it acceptable to penalize someone on the basis of solely the convictions of the administrators. A fair trial can only be achieved if the School has a list of rules clearly stating offenses and corresponding penalties.
  1. In order to support his claims, in Article 11 of his last report, the Head teacher mentions the complaint he had received from Mrs. Popi Grouta regarding Mr. Antoniou. However, in a letter to the Board, dated 4th of August 2015, Mrs. Grouta totally refutes this claim (please refer to Annex 4). Furthermore, the Head teacher states that there are a 2 more complaints against Mr. Antoniou, however, he fails to mention any names or reveal any investigation reports. During a legal procedure, without concrete evidence, these can be regarded as solely convictions.
  1. The Board had an extraordinary meeting on 3rd of August without an agenda and with the attendance of 7 members. Relying on the last report produced by the Head teacher, a decision was taken to dismiss Mr. Antoniou, with 5 voting for and 2 voting against. Far from being objective, this decision was more based on a judgment call. The fact that The English School, which has a long tradition of upholding excellence, does not have a list of rules clearly stating offenses and corresponding penalties is a disgrace. Furthermore, the decision taken on 3rd of August will also go down in history as a disgraceful decision.
  1. A decision has been made on 3rd of August. The President of the Board has denied the existence of this decision in her statements to the press, which she should have not done (please refer to Annex 2). The matter was put to a vote by the Chair of the School, and she also voted in favour of dismissal.
  1.  I have been invited to yet another meeting will take place on the 26th of August with the presence of all Board members and the issue at hand will be taken into reconsideration. The expectation is that instead of dismissal, Mr. Antoniou will lose his post and rank as assistant head teacher. This is an unwritten rule and a very harsh penalty almost as severe as dismissal. Taking away the post and rank of an educator with 27 years of service at the English school (33 years in total and 15 as assistant head teacher) amounts to humiliation.
  1. As an educator of 30 years and a union representative, I always use the disciplinary proceedings listed below (please refer to Annex 1) on matters of disciplinary actions. I believe this is how disciplinary proceedings take place in most of the world. The recommendation of dismissal given by the Head teacher, without basing it on any written rules, and the Board’s approval of this recommendation without even hearing Mr. Antoniou’s version is unacceptable. Therefore, I demand that all charges and proceedings are immediately dropped.
  1. I recommend that the whole question of disciplinary procedure against staff be referred to the Board and with the collaboration of the senior staff management of the school and ESSA to properly develop disciplinary policy and procedure which includes a list of disciplinary procedures clearly stating offenses and corresponding disciplinary actions and the removal of this case from the agenda of the Board of Management. 
Şener Elcil
Board Member
The English School


Annex 1:

DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
Disciplinary proceedings against teachers and grounds for disciplinary actions are as follows:

1.    Written Warning: A written warning is issued to the teacher cautioning them to have higher regard for their work. Circumstances under which a written warning is issued are: 
a.    Disregard for the profession or carelessness at work.
b.    Arriving late to work or leaving early despite verbal and/or written warnings.
c.    Offensive language and behavior towards colleagues and students
d.    Contradicting the principals of fulfilling duties in cooperation   
      
2.    Reprimanding: This is a written notice given to the teacher indicating that they are at fault in behavior and their duties. Conditions under which a reprimanding is issued are:
a.    Neglect and tardiness in completing assigned duties.
b.    Refusing to work in harmony and cooperation with colleagues as required by the nature of the work and acting against these requirements.
c.    Not providing adequately the required teaching-training and guidance for the students and his/her subordinates respectively and reprimanding them in an unwarranted manner.
d.    Acting without due respect towards his/her supervisor(s), not abiding to the instructions given or work distributions stated by supervisors.
e.    Exhibiting unacceptable behavior towards those visiting the school on work related matters.

3.    Short and long term prevention of promotion:
a.    Short-term prevention of promotion: This penalty prevents the teacher from advancing in his/her career for a maximum of six months. The following actions and behaviors will result in receiving this penalty:
i.    Absence from work for continuous 5 working days without a valid excuse or permission;
 ii.    Failing to comply with orders specified in the law, by-laws and guidelines;
iii.    Using work equipment for private purposes.
b.    Long-term prevention of promotion: This penalty prevents a member advancing in his/her career for one year, one and a half or two years. This penalty will be given for the following proven actions:
                                          i.    Absence from work for a total of 10 working days in a year without a valid excuse or permission;
                                        ii.    Failing to fulfill the duty of impartiality;
                                       iii.    Causing great damage to work equipment due to deliberate misconduct or negligence;
                                       iv.    Taking advantage of his/her position in any way for personal gain;

4.    Temporary Suspension: This penalty suspends a teacher from work for a minimum of 15 days or a maximum of six months with half wage. Behavior and actions necessitating in a temporary suspension penalty are the following:
a.    Assaulting a supervisor or colleague while on duty;
b.    Absence from work for a total of 20 working days in a year without a valid excuse or permission;
c.    During his/her period of service receiving a suspension of promotion penalty three times;
d.    Behaving in a way that aims to provide benefit to citizens or cause them loss due to deliberate action or for personal gain;
e.    Making a statement or giving information on behalf of the Ministry concerning the policies or the services of the Ministry to the press, radio or television without prior authorization;
f.     Provoking the students on any issue and steering them to organize protests.

5.    Dismissal from the teaching and civil service profession: Permanent dismissal of the teacher from the teaching profession. Teachers who have received this penalty will no longer be able to take on a teaching or a civil service position.   The following actions and behaviors will result in receiving this penalty:

a.    Exhibiting disgraceful and indecent behavior not compatible with a teacher or a public servant; owning illicit drugs with the intention of using, disseminating, producing or selling. 
b.    Absence from work for a total of 30 working days in a year without a valid excuse or permission;
c.    Making a habit of assaulting a supervisor or colleague while on duty;
d.    Being a member of a political party;
e.    Committing a disgraceful offence such as bribery, theft, fraud or extortion as well as other offences classified as disgraceful offence by the law (which must be confirmed by the court);
f.     Making a profit through illegal means;
g.    Failing to comply with the ban on second jobs and continuing to do so despite warnings;
h.    Leaving work unwarrantedly, except in extraordinary situations in order to exercise a right;
i.      Attempting to overthrow the established order of the state within or outside of working hours;
j.      No longer possessing the qualifications prescribed on Article 9 of this law.

Annex 2:
Article published in Philelephteros Newspaper on 12th of August 2015

A new story unfolding in the English School in Nicosia (English School) sees the light of day, returning to the confrontational climate that is maintained for years inside the school. A lot is said but not officially confirmed on the happenings, involving a complaint against Deputy Head of the School for conflict he had with teacher-colleague in 2013 on a student trip.

The subject seems to cause disruption in the school community, with one side claiming that this is a purely internal matter for the rules and procedures governing the operation of the English School. The other side, however, attaches political overtones in the case, arguing that the actions promoted are linked to the Deputy-related beliefs and attitude regarding relations G / C and T / C students. Conflicting information is even about whether a decision was taken by the Management Board for dismissal of the affected educational and there are intense rumours of intervention of the Presidential Palace in the whole issue.

Members of the Board argue, however, that on August 3, the BoM met and with five votes in favour, two against and four absences decided the dismissal of the Deputy Director for anticolleagial behaviour.

The Head of the school by letter to the Board recommended the immediate dismissal of that teacher. They add that the decision caused the reaction of the Presidential Palace and asked to review and thus overturn.

However, in yesterday's statements to “Phileleftheros” the President of the Board Magda Nicholson clarified that on August 3 there was no decision to dismiss. As she said, the Council will meet on the 26th about the whole thing, adding that he was invited to attend and influenced deputy. When asked whether to August 26 will decide the dismissal or not, Ms. Nicholson replied that "it is not predetermined what kind of decision taken by the Council." She denied also the information on the Presidential intervention in order to prevent the termination of that teacher.
From his part, the immediately influenced teacher did not want to make any statement. Through his lawyer, however, he appealed to the Ombudsman denouncing the Management of the English School for unlawful discrimination and that expelled for reasons purely related to the fact that it is a staunch supporter of cooperation between G / C and T / C.

Annex 3:
The report written by the Head teacher on 3rd of August 2015.

Dear Mrs Nicholson,

I write with regards to the recent articles in the Cypriot newspapers regarding disciplinary procedures following the complaint of Maryenda Stefanou, such that the Board is aware of my thoughts on this matter.  Below are the points I would like to make.

1.  This is an internal school matter.
2.  It has nothing to do with Politics.
3.  Evidence supports Ms Stefanou's case.
4.  Seeking to corrupt the process through use of the media is wholly inappropriate. (Possibly this should lead to its own disciplinary action)
5.  There is no evidence to suggest Ms Stefanou version is not accurate.
6.  If the Board does not take a strong line here others will seek to use the media in a similar way.
7. There must be no more delay in taking this decision, September is not an option.  The English School does not want any disruption to the start of term, we should be focussing on children's education.
8. Evidence suggest that during the investigation Mr Antonio was less than candid. He has contradicted himself regarding the comments about the Board.
9.The fact that the issue is being tangled up with other irrelevant matters points further to the guilt of Mr Antoniou, it is often what happens in schools when students are guilty of an offence, they seek to muddy the argument by bringing in other irrelevant factors, rather than focusing on the issue at hand.
10.  The comments in the newspaper, from Mr Antoniou's  lawyer imply that the investigation was corrupted.  I would make the following comments on this, a) we are not the police, b) we operate in an educational environment and procedures were followed, ESSA, were happy with these and Lilian also believed the correct procedure was followed, c) there is also an implication that the Headmaster has acted improperly, obviously completely inappropriate and untrue, this should have never been in the newspapers, clearly there is no respect for theschool or the integrity of the staff.
11. Subsequently to Ms Stefanou's case, I would like to remind you that Mrs Poppi Grouta also spoke to me, in term 3, regarding Mr Antoniou abusing her verbally, regarding an Economics department decision.  In summary this is now 3 members of staff who have reported inappropriate behaviour from Mr Antoniou, (there may be others historically, that I do not know about) , however, this incident with Ms Stefanou is clearly not a one off, and the 3 staff concerned are quite senior.

Following on from the above I see no other option than to recommend the instant dismissal of Mr Antoniou.  If this is challenged legally we can support all of our statements.

Furthermore, I will be available on my phone this evening should you require clarification on any matter.

regards
Graeme

Annex 4:
The letter written by Ms. Popi Grouta on 4th of August 2015.

To all concerned

I have been informed today that I, allegedly, have filed a complaint either orally or in written form against my colleague, Antonis Antoniou, about an incident that occurred between us in early June. I would like to make it very clear that this incident, concerning a certain departmental matter, wasquickly resolved in the presence of my line manager, Dr Chris Mavrommatis to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

A few days later, on 18th June, I attended a meeting (called by the head teacher) with the Head teacher, who wanted to know what the matter was all about. I explained to him what had happened, I referred to the disagreement and also explained that the issue had been resolved in the presence of my line manager. I naturally had no grievance against my colleague since the matter had been settled in an amicable manner days before the meeting with the Head Teacher. Any other interpretation of the event(s) is completely unfounded.

I have worked closely with Mr Antoniou since 1998 and our relationship has been one of collegiality and mutual respect. It is very upsetting and disconcerting that this incident has been made use of and held against my colleague, Mr Antonis Antoniou.

I am at your disposal should you require any further clarifications.

Popi Grouta
Head of Economics & Business Studies ​


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