By George Psyllides
Following an intense public spat with the education minister after the death of a 10-year-old boy who had been injured at school, primary education teachers’ union Poed took a step back on Thursday saying it would focus on health and safety in schools.
Poed chairman Phylios Phylactou said teachers had been unjustly targeted but they now wanted to turn the page to facilitate the smooth operation of schools.
Of President Nicos Anastasiades’ statement on Wednesday that he would not allow the state become a union fiefdom, Phylactou said it was probably prompted by the one-sided information he had received and repeated his appeal for a meeting so that they could explain the real facts.
Teachers reacted after Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris ordered a disciplinary probe against a teacher in connection with the death of Stavros Giorgallis some two weeks ago.
The boy had suffered a head injury while playing basketball at school. He was taken to Larnaca hospital by his mother but doctors there apparently missed the injury and discharged the boy. He was rushed back in critical condition and died later after he was transferred to Nicosia. Two doctors have since been charged over the death.
The situation at the school front worsened after Hambiaouris asked police to remove union members who wanted to be present while teachers were interviewed. It was also reported that the teacher in question had priors and had been transferred four times in the last six years.
In the meantime, the minister also said there were active teachers with psychological problems.
Poed held district assemblies on Wednesday to discuss the matter, including the leak of the teacher’s personal data.
Phylactou said teachers were disappointed over the unwarranted attacks against them over “a matter that had nothing to do with everything we are hearing today, be it psychological problems, or inadequate teachers, or evaluations. That wasn’t the issue.”
Despite the attack, Phylactou said, which could have prompted more extreme measures on their behalf, the union decided that what it did so far was sufficient.
He said members did not want to take any measures at this stage which would bring a reaction.
Secondary education union Oelmek condemned the minister’s comments, as well as those from organised parents, that followed the child’s death.
Oelmek said the minister’s handling was unacceptable because he tried to divert public opinion from the key issue of health and safety at schools to the inadequacy of a small group of teachers.
“We think this effort was unfortunate, to say the least, since the responsibility for investigating this small number of inadequate teachers lies exclusively with the education ministry,” Oelmek said. The union also expressed support for Poed and condemned efforts to curtail constitutionally-secured union rights.