5 July 2021 (Constitution Day)
Weekly Current (archived version)
Police investigate alleged financial irregularities at UCCI. Interview with leaders at Montessori By The Sea. Analysis of religious rules in public schools. Homeschooling jumps in popularity. Inspection results for Discovery Kids.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Police are investigating allegations of “misappropriation of funds by an employee” from University College of the Cayman Islands.
UCCI financial controllers flagged the irregularities, sparking an internal review that led to the termination of the employee and referral of the matter to police and the Office of the Auditor General.
The concerns were first raised during a UCCI audit of its 2020 financial statements in March and April. After the investigation had begun, the employee left the Cayman Islands.
Many of our readers will recall the case of Hassan Syed, who in 2017 was sentenced to 8 years in prison for defrauding UCCI of more than $700,000 while he was president of UCCI from 2006-2008. Syed’s activities included fabricating his credentials, charging more than $200,000 on his college credit card (including for lavish gifts for his girlfriend), and then fleeing Cayman before being apprehended in Switzerland in 2014.
The Cayman Compass was the first to report on the current allegations of financial irregularities.
On this week’s episode of EdBeat, Cayman Life TV founder April Cummings and Current editor Patrick Brendel invited Compass journalist James Whittaker on to talk about his reporting and related issues.
In addition to the facts around the ongoing investigation, topics discussed include the Compass’s reasons for not disclosing the identity of the accused employee (short answer: no arrest, no charges, yet), potential improvements in UCCI financial controls since the Syed fiasco, and the pros/cons of proactive disclosure of ‘bad news’ before reporters start making phone calls.
This week we sat down to talk with Deborah Thompson and Denise Orosa of Montessori By The Sea.
In May, Montessori By The Sea became the first public or private primary school in Cayman to achieve the highest rating of ‘Excellent’ from the Office of Education Standards. Additionally, it was one of the first schools (along with Little Trotters Farm & Nursery School) to earn ‘Excellent’ marks in all individual areas of assessment.
Established in the year 2000, the school has an enrolment of about 140 students ranging in age from 21 months to 12 years.
In the first half of the interview, Thompson and Orosa talk about the school’s founding and the experience coming back from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Highlights from the interview:
- Thompson and co-owner Kourtni Jackson started the school because they both had 3-year-old children, and there were long waitlists for Montessori education (and preschools generally).
- “We were very fortunate that we had people that were willing to take a chance on 2 unknown people who were starting a new school.”
- Montessori By The Sea used to offer education all the way to Grade 8, but eventually scaled back to Grade 6 because older students kept having to transfer out to secure spots in high school.
- “I wouldn’t say [this past school year] was business as usual. We started of the year being ‘on guard’ or on ‘high alert’ because we weren’t really sure how the year was going to turn out.”
- “We’re so grateful that we had as normal a school year as it could be.”
- “The children obviously were great. The children are always so much more resilient than the adults.”
- Although standardised testing may show a ‘learning loss’ in children globally due to to the pandemic, if children know ‘how to learn’ there is a lot they can gain from any experience, even if they hadn’t been able to cover particular material on a curriculum.
- “We made a conscious choice to really focus on maintaining connections and consistency. We tried to focus on keeping certain practices the same when we switched to an online format.”
In the second half of the interview, Thompson and Orosa will discuss improving the school’s rating to ‘Excellent’, plans going forward and misconceptions about Montessori education.
Stay tuned …
An alleged incident at Red Bay Primary School, which instigated an investigation by police and child protection officials, has raised questions about the role and regulation of religion in public schools.
A Current analysis has found that in the absence of written guidelines or rules, it appears that school leaders have broad discretion in terms of the promotion or display of religion within local government schools.
The Education Law states that “Non-denominational religious worship and instruction shall be given in every Government school.”
However, there are a lack of mandates or restrictions on, for example, if or how often prayers are said, what faiths are represented, the types of ceremonies that could be conducted and by whom, etc.
Inside the classroom, the Ministry of Education provided a detailed programme of study for primary school religious education, including the purposes of religious education, topics covered and expectations for students.
The central role of religion in public schools in Cayman is not dissimilar to that in government-funded schools in the UK. The issue is far different (and more contentious) in the United States.
On the ‘home front’, more and more parents in Cayman are seeking to educate their children beyond the walls of brick-and-mortar schools.
The Department of Education Services announced that, since the beginning of the 2020/21 school year, the number of homeschooled students rose to 170 from 104 the year before. That’s an increase of 63%.
In mid-June, the Home Schoolers Association hosted its first end of the year awards ceremony to celebrate students’ achievements.
Back in October, we wrote a story on rising homeschooling numbers, noting that the previous high water mark for homeschooling was 119 students in 2018/19.
The 170 homeschoolers represent about 2% of the total student population. For context, in the US between 3-4% of students attend homeschools, and in the UK fewer than 1%.
More from the Current
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- Cayman Compass: Police probe allegations of misappropriated funds at UCCI
- Cayman News Service: All three government high schools improving
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Primary schools closure decision delayed for a month
- The Texas Tribune: Texas students’ standardized test scores dropped dramatically during the pandemic, especially in math
The Week Ahead
- Interview, Montessori By The Sea, Part 2
- Cayman’s education transparency, in regional context
- EdBeat, Episode 7