Uduvil school crisis raised at Northern Provincial Council

Saturday, 24 September 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Dharisha Bastians

The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) on Thursday resisted an opposition proposal requesting Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to intervene in the Uduvil Girls’ College crisis, where students and parents have been protesting against the appointment of a new principal for the school. 

The Uduvil school crisis was raised at the NPC just hours before retiring headmistress Shiranee Mills formally vacated the principal’s bungalow inside the school premises. 

Mills handed over her keys to the bungalow and left the premises last afternoon, Daily FT learns, signalling that the crisis at the church-administered elite girls’ school was finally reaching its end. 

The Uduvil Girls’ College, a private school managed by the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), was plunged into crisis earlier this month after past pupils, students and a group of parents cried foul what they referred to as the ‘forcible retirement’ of outgoing headmistress, Shiranee Mills.

Suneetha Jebaratnam, a teacher at UGC for 30 years and the former Vice Principal, formally took over duties from Principal Mills last Monday (12), but calls continued from some groups for the former headmistress’ reinstatement. 

Outgoing Principal Mills vacated the premises shortly after NPC Opposition Leader Sinnadurai Thavarajah of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) raised the Uduvil school crisis as a matter of public importance in the Council on Thursday, appealing to Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to appoint a commission to investigate the irregularities and ‘high-handed’ actions by some teachers and clergy during the protests by the school girls and past pupils.  

Thavarajah said he had raised the matter at the NPC because of appeals by a Parents’ Association that had been established after the issues at Uduvil Girls College had begun. The petition submitted by the parents to him had included allegations that some teachers had misbehaved and that some teachers were not qualified to teach, Thavarajah added. 

Thavarajah’s proposal was strongly opposed by NPC members Emmanuel Arnold, Ayoob Azmin and Kesavan Sajanthan, who insisted that Uduvil Girls’ College was a private missionary school.

“The provincial council has nothing to do with the school,” Sajanthan told Daily FT. 

The TNA council members accused the EPDP of ‘fishing in troubled waters’. “On a previous occasion too, the EPDP had unlawfully interfered in the Uduvil Girls’ College issue with this principal, the TNA members charged. 

Sajanthan said the EPDP member was attempting to raise new allegations against the school, including the abuse of students. 

As the TNA councillors resisted Thavarajah’s motion, both Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, and Provincial Education Minister Thambyrajah Gurukularajah who recently called for Mills’ reinstatement as principal, had remained silent. 

The Council finally decided that the complaint could be filed at the Public Petitions Committee through the NPC Chairman, which would look into the complaint and report back to the Council, Thavarajah told Daily FT. 

“I am not supporting any group. I have no interest in the appointment of the principals. My concern is a law and order issue only, when it came to some violent behaviour towards protesting students,” Thavarajah told Daily FT after his attempt to get the Chief Minister to intervene was unsuccessful. 

“The idea was not that the Chief Minister should interfere,” the NPC Opposition Leader added, “but that it must be looked at as a law and order issue.”

Uduvil Girls’ College is a 192-year-old school set up by American missionaries in Jaffna in 1824 and went on to become the first boarding school for girls in Asia. It is entirely privately funded by a trust set up by the American Mission, which also funds the historic Jaffna College. Both schools are administered by the JDCSI. 

The recent crisis at UGC was rooted in an acrimonious church split which occurred in 2005. The Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM), which broke away from the main church strongly supported an extension of service for Principal Mills. (DB) 

(The opening line of this article has been amended to reflect that there was no procedural motion taken up at the NPC about the Uduvil Girls' College on 22 September 2016, following a clarification in this regard by S. Thavarajah. As made evident in the succeeding paragraphs of the original article and the headline, the issue was raised at the Council as a 'matter of public importance.)