Taipei European School (TES) CEO David Gatley was in the hot seat at a townhall-style meeting on Wednesday night at the school’s Swire European Secondary Campus, where close to 100 parents gathered to learn why Peter Sloan and Stuart Glascott, section heads for the British primary and secondary sections respectively, were abruptly fired for gross misconduct. However, the parents did not get the answers they were looking for.
The meeting was the second held on Wednesday by the school’s beleaguered chief executive, and, as with the first — to which hundreds of parents showed up — the meeting soon became less about the firing of two administrators than about the governance of the school.
The parents had on Tuesday learned of the dismissals in a letter signed by Gatley.
Stephane Riverain, whose two children attend the school’s French section and previously attended the British section, said he was stunned by Gatley’s responses to parents’ questions.
“We are still no nearer to understanding what happened,” he said on Friday. “Whatever happened ... if you are going to be talking about safety and someone has been fired for gross misconduct, I believe the parents have a right to know [why].”
Riverain, who attended the first meeting, was referring to a paragraph in Gatley’s letter that said the school “suffered from an unhealthy atmosphere” and that it was “essential” the school “serves as a safe environment for all our students, parents and staff” — words that also raised alarm bells for parents at the evening meeting.
At that meeting, Gatley told parents that he was referring to the safety of faculty and staff, not necessarily that of the students.
“What I said is that [staff] feel sometimes unsafe about raising things at meetings. I said we need an open atmosphere just to feel safe, where people feel they can feel safe in saying what they need to say and we can have a proper debate on how to work through it,” Gatley said.
However, for parents, it was Gatley’s vague explanation about concerns over the children’s safety that led to the broader issue of transparency and accountability and how much a role parents should have in school governance — an issue that had been rumbling below the surface since at least last year, when Gatley took the place of the previous CEO and the board of directors changed the school’s Articles of Organization without informing the parents.
“It seems to me that the [firings were] reactionary: quick, impromptu, parents don’t know, child councilors don’t know, teachers don’t know, children don’t know,” one parent said. “It is extremely unnerving that the children that we care for and for us as parents — it’s difficult for us.”
Glascott and Sloan said through a TES parent that they could not comment.
A source told the Taipei Times that TES sent out a memo informing the heads of the German and French sections, like all employees of the school, not to speak to the media.
As of press time last night — and after the Taipei Times sent a list of questions to Gatley on Friday and to Taipei European School Foundation board chairman and former Straits Exchange Foundation secretary-general C.V. Chen (陳長文) on Saturday — the school had still not revealed why Glascott and Sloan were dismissed and how it specifically plans to proceed with the school’s governance and regain the trust of the parents.
Neither Gatley nor Chen responded to the questions posed by the Taipei Times.
However, according to a statement Gatley sent to the Taipei Times on Friday, the board of directors is “consulting [with] the community and hopes to restructure the board soon,” although it was not immediately clear who in the community they are consulting.
When reached for comment on Saturday, the TES Parent Community, which is made up of the 1,100 families with children enrolled in TES, told the Taipei Times that the board had not yet addressed how they would handle parents’ specific concerns, adding that they had not heard anything from school officials.
Gatley’s letter also said that the board of directors has “now established a standing committee and some sub-committees addressing matters on governance and policy, facilities, finance, communication and strategy.”
However, at stake for parents is that the standing committee is composed of members appointed by the board of directors.
Although the committee is composed of the section chairs and parents, a source on the committee said that “we don’t feel listened to, since, for example, accreditation requirements are still questioned despite extensive documentation and explanations provided to the CEO.”
Another parent echoed the sentiment to Gatley at Wednesday’s evening meeting.
The committee replaced the board of governors, an oversight and decisionmaking body composed of eight elected parents — four chairpersons from each school section (there are two British sections) and four parents who have children in the school.
The parents are concerned that these changes curtail to insignificance the parents as decisionmakers in the operation of the school, reduce transparency and raise possible conflicts of interest.
“It’s supposed to be a parent-run school,” a parent said. “That’s what we are.”
According to a letter obtained by the Taipei Times that was in September last year sent by the TES Parent Community to the Taipei Bureau of Education, the competent authority, the board of directors had made administrative changes to the school’s governance in July without the parents’ knowledge or consent.
Signed by 133 TES parents, it said that the merger of the board of directors and the board of governors should be postponed, because if it were allowed to go through, “parents will no longer have voting rights for the operation and management of TES.”
In the letter, the parents said they were not consulted before the vote, and that parents elected to the parent-run board of governors were only informed by letter that the changes had been made “without validation through a general assembly meeting,” according to the September letter.
The TES Parent Community wrote that the changes violated several articles in the school’s Articles of Operation, including merging the board of governors with the board of directors, stripping parents of their voting rights and removing parents from decisionmaking over proposals for facilities, operations and management of the school.
Meanwhile, the bureau rejected the board of directors’ changes to the articles because there was an error in the application, which means that the board of governors theoretically remains active.
However, a source with knowledge of the board of governors said that they have not met officially since last summer, although they remain in weekly contact.
After months of inaction, the TES Parent Community on Jan. 22 put a petition online and sent it, along with 606 parent signatures, to the bureau on Jan. 30.
In it, they reiterated their concerns that “TES continues to be in disarray with no effective structure or strategies in place to ensure that the educational goal and objectives for expatriate children will be cared for.”
A bureau official, who identified herself with the surname Su, on Friday said the changes had been made and that there was no longer a board of governors.
However, seeking clarification from another official resulted in the bureau making no comment at this time. The Taipei Times remains unclear whether the bureau has approved the board of directors’ changes to the articles.
In response to the petition, the school on Jan. 25 issued a statement to the parents, signed by Chen, that said the “accusations are based on rumors originating from questionable sources and are factually incorrect.”
Chen added that articles in the petition “reflect on the roles no longer delegated by the BOD [board of directors]; the opinion stated is written without offering a full perspective from all parents.”
Gatley at Wednesday’s meeting said the board of directors was to meet on Friday to discuss the firings and future direction of the school.
A TES employee, who was not authorized to give their name, said Gatley and the board of directors did meet on Friday, but the employee was not privy to its contents.
In a letter obtained by the Taipei Times that was sent to parents on Friday, the CEO said that he “will not give examples of reasons behind the actions taken.”
“It is not only morally unethical to speak about the wrongdoing of individuals publicly, there are also legal implications,” Gatley added. “Please be assured that there is nothing that affects the safety of your children or the school.”
However, for parents such as Riverain, there is much that remains to be clarified.
“I think a lot of parents still want answers and we deserve answers. In fact, if they’d communicated this better and found ways of saying things in a much better way, possibly the parents wouldn’t have pushed for more,” he said.
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