Belize High School Faces Legal Battle Over Former Principal’s Termination

Belize High School Faces Legal Battle Over Former Principal’s Termination

Tonight, the Belize High School is speaking out against what it says were personal threats and false narratives.  The remarks come as the institution is looking to avoid a legal battle with former Principal Jamie Usher. But a lawsuit may just be inevitable as Usher’s attorney, Senior Counsel Dean Barrow, has already written to the Belize High School threatening a lawsuit. Barrow says his client’s termination letter on February 14 violated the school’s grievance procedure and Usher’s natural justice rights.  He furthered by saying that Usher was never formally notified of any complaint against her, and was not allowed to present a defense.  According to Barrow, Usher’s termination was wrong, morally reprehensible, and legally unsupportable, to which she can claim damages, interest, and costs. Additionally, Usher found the proposed payoff from the school unsatisfactory and is prepared to go to court for being entitled to a substantial damages award. Up to news time tonight, a lawsuit has not been filed, as Senior Counsel Barrow informed the school that the matter could be settled outside of court.  Love News understands that the Board of Directors has been given seven days to furnish Usher with a settlement proposal or face a lawsuit. While the school is yet to reply to Barrow’s letter, today it issued a press release denying rumors surrounding Usher’s termination. The school says that “despite the attacks launched at the school, by persons and entities with their agenda, the Board and management remain focused on the continuity of all the academic programs…” The school’s attorney, Audrey Matura, says the school is denying that Usher’s termination was based on gender or politics.  According to Matura, the school had legal rights to let Usher go without a valid explanation.

Audrey Matura, Attorney: “Well I’ll get straight to the point. It is only the United Women’s Group from the PUP that has said that it’s a gender issue, absolutely not the fact. Absolutely not. As a matter of fact BES and BHS would not survive if it was not for all the women who are the leaders there in the classrooms even the principal administration the women outnumber the men. Definitely it’s not a gender issue. Paul I can tell you it’s a deeper issue than that. It’s a pity that that’s the read herring and it has taken a political slant but like I say it’s a private company and we would have preferred that the matter remained in house but I can categorically say that it’s not a gender issue. I can say that from a strictly legal position and I can say it from a very personal position being one of the parents of one of the students there, a daughter at that. Under the Labour Act an employer can fire or terminate or whatever term you want to call it an employee based on section 37 of the law that says you don’t have to give reason. What that means ? It means that there might be reasons but if you give reasons and those reasons amount to gross misconduct or any impropriety that employee loses all his or her benefits. And sometimes employers look at it and say you know what ? What is the easier, more humane, empathetic way to do things ? It doesn’t mean that the person with whom you’re trying to be graceful will be likewise graceful. And so when you look at it legally since 2011 the law changed and a lot of people don’t know this, that your employer could just have to give you a letter and say “Hey, Paul you’re terminated and here’s your package. Your severance that you’re entitled to, your salary, your notice and everything.” and they can say “Go forthwith.” So nothing that the High School has done is illegal.”

Matura added that while the board is not going into the details surrounding Usher’s termination, it can say that the decision to not give an explanation was in everyone’s best interest, particularly the students. 

Audrey Matura, Attorney: “If you terminate someone with reasons and if that reason amounts to gross misconduct and like matters it simply means you’re telling the person you have to leave now, you get absolutely no severance especially if you’ve worked for more than five/ten years you have something that you would likely get. You get your notice pay only and your salary and your vacation pay if anything but your severance is usually your package. So I think the best way to put that is to say what is the lawful and the legal position that they high school acted within the law and whatever internal matters as juicy as it may be and people dying to hear the board has taken a very professional stance in which they’re saying look the interest of the children come first and putting our dirty laundry out there will not help. And it is unfortunate because if the matter is pushed to the point that the school is taken to court that dirty laundry will come out. And honestly I wish people would respect the position that we are dealing here with children. This is not BTL when we’re going after Ashcroft. This is not that. This is a school that promotes education and young people and for the sake of those young people and keeping in mind the principle of family law and the law on the Convention on the Rights of Children the best interest of the child is paramount. So I’m hoping that all the adults will learn to sit down and be rational and know that whatever needs to be done had to be done but what are we looking out for ? What the children will ultimately gain ?”

Our newsroom understands that the board will be meeting with all parents of the school tomorrow to discuss the matter. Interestingly, over the weekend, Michael Singh posted on Facebook, quote, “How in the dickens can it be justified that a star educator such as Jamie can be allowed to leave that institution? Those teachers that disagreed with her “management style” may need to check themselves on their own performance.  I am one of the original founding board members of BHS and a parent of a student that has excelled in his studies and now in his career as a Computer Engineer as a direct result of the base STEM education he got at BHS under Jamie’s leadership. I can attest to the pure and selfless dedication and innovation that she brought to that school.”  End of quote.

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