Just days after he was reinstated as principal of the Fancy Government School, some residents of the North Windward village are calling for Colbert Bowens to be assigned to a school outside the community.
Parents of the seven students who died in the Rock Gutter bus crash on Jan. 12, 2015, met on the weekend and said they will launch a petition to have Bowens transferred because of what they say were inappropriate comments he made last year, when he was charged with manslaughter in connection with the students’ deaths.
The Teachers’ Union had last week issued a press statement asking why Bowens had not been reinstated months after the criminal proceedings against him were discontinued.
Bowens, a trustee for the church that owned the minibus, was among three persons charged on Nov. 11, 2015 in connection with the death of students.
However, on May 4, 2016, the charges against him were discontinued at the beginning of a preliminary inquiry.
But he had not been reinstated at the beginning of the new school year, last week Monday, Sept. 5, and the Teachers’ Union issued a statement, calling on the Public Service Commission to reinstate Bowens, with immediate effect.
Word of Bowen’s reinstatement came last Friday.
However, parents of the students who died in the bus crash met on the weekend and signed a petition asking for Bowens to be transferred to another school.
They grounded their petitions in what they say are inappropriate comments Bowens reportedly made during the school assembly after he was charged.
“After he was charged with causing the deaths of seven children, during general assembly, in the presence of two grieving teachers who are also parents, he asked the students if they [had] heard any commess (gossip/rumours) about him over the weekend; if they (students) saw photographs of him in the papers,” one of the parents, who asked not to be named in this story, told iWitness News.
The parents said that Bowens asked the student what were their views on manslaughter — the charge that was laid against him.
“The principal even went as far as to tell the students to inform their parents that who is for him is more than who is against him.
“On another occasion, while the coroner’s inquest was ongoing, the principal asked one of the grieving parents of the deceased, who was also a member of his staff, ‘Which do you prefer? here (school), or there ( court)?”
“The parents of the deceased view the statements as made to create threats, fear and intimidation among staff members, students and the community of Fancy, thus causing infractions,” the parent told iWitness News.
The petition that was started on the weekend comes as a follow-up to a letter that the parents had sent to the Ministry of Education last year, informing them of the comments that Bowens reportedly made and asking that he be reassigned.
Among others, the letter was copied to the Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union.
A source familiar with the development told iWitness News that all but one of the parents of the deceased student (who is out of state) attended a meeting on Sunday where they decided to lobby the Ministry of Education to have Bowens transferred to a school outside of Fancy.
“We will give the petition to teachers to sign as well. We don’t know if that would conflict with their union regulations, but we will see if that could work,” a parent told iWitness News.
iWitness News was unsuccessful in repeated attempt over several days to reach Bowens by telephone.
WE called his cellphone number several times Tuesday morning, but the calls went unanswered.
A female answered around 7:15 a.m. and said that he had gone to exercise and should be back “any time now”.
But when we called again at 7:45 a.m., as we indicated we would have, that call, and several after it, went unanswered.
The development between the parents and the educator further reflects the deep fractures that have opened up in the close-knit community after the students died when the minibus, which was owned by a church, careened down a steep section of road and plunged into the sea.
The bodies of two of the students were not recovered.
Meanwhile, fellow Fancy residents Ehud Myers, a 67-year-old pastor; and Davanan Nanton, a 36-year-old chauffeur, are expected to return to court soon for a continuation of the preliminary inquiry into the death of the students: Racquel Ashton, Chanstacia Stay, Glenroy Michael, Jamall and Jamalie Edwards, Simonique Ballantyne and Anique Alexander.