Stay away from Kuwaiti schools, says international teachers group 6

The International Schools Review has issued a travel and work advisory for teachers intending to visit or work in Kuwait, after a middle school administrator reported a powerful parent was harassing her.

Katherine Phillips of the Al Bayan Bilingual School has been unable to leave the country after an angry, influential parent filed charges of “unlawful imprisonment” against her. Phillips had assigned three fifth graders to in-school suspension last year, after the three were caught fighting in school.

Saying that such harassment is not unusual for teachers in Kuwait, the ISR posted the travel/work advisory on its website, saying in part:

We encourage all teachers/administrators to contact their Kuwaiti Schools, calling for an immediate resolution of Katherine Phillips’ situation, one that will lift her travel ban and allow her to return home to her family.

We further encourage all teachers/administrators in Kuwaiti Schools to consider not returning to Kuwait or honoring their contracts in Kuwait until this situation has been resolved.

The advisory includes Phillips’ original email to ISR, a supporting letter from another teacher who has taught in Kuwait, and a message apparently from a Kuwaiti supporting the charges against Phillips.

ISR sent an email to its subscribers containing letters from Dr. Barbara Spilchuk, a teacher placement advisor at ISR, and from Phillip’s parents in Bahrain. It is reproduced here.

While her plight has not yet made the world mainstream media, both the print versions of the Arab Times and Kuwait Times have covered the story. Meanwhile bloggers like 2:48am, an expat living in Kuwait, are publicizing her situation. Commenters at 2:48am are conducting a lively debate about the issue.

A similar debate at the London Times Educational Supplement, where teachers can exchange ideas, also ensued, but was removed by the TES staff today, since the debate involved a specific person at a specific school, contrary to TES guidelines.

Commenters at TES and 2:48am are debating whether Phillips is the victim of Arab “wasta,” which loosely translated is “having connections with powerful people.” The parent suing Phillips is supposedly close to the emir, and is pulling strings to make her life miserable.

Here’s a comment from a TES commenter, thisismytruth, rescued from Google cache:

I have little doubt that the story is true; wasta used for vituperative purposes like this is nothing new.All of the named personnel at the Embassy are some of the key personnel there at the moment. If Sonny Busa (the Consul) is finding it difficult to extricate Ms. Phillips from this, then the tentacles of the named parent probably must have slipped their way into the upper reaches of the Kuwaiti royal family. We have what I term a Wastapus on our hands.

And this from another, canadashirleyblue,

I am not surprised one little bit.I personally know someone who was arrested at the airport in Kuwait and put in jail. He was eventually deported. He was lucky. His crime was to resign from the school in question within the time frame allowed in the contract. The owner of the school had connections.

Others at 2:48am are on both sides of the wasta debate; some say Phillips should trust the Kuwaiti legal system and not worry. The majority, however, say she is not exaggerating her fears.From 2:48am, by BBS Management:

I am personally involved in this story and I know the details since the start in in March of 2006.To make a long story short, three kids got into a fight and school policy has been enforced on them which is “In School Suspension”.

The school policy is approved by the M.o.Education, and the parents of all BBS students have signed on it.

The parents of the other two kids were appreciative of the corrective measures the school took to discipline thier kids but Mr. al Marzooq couldnt accept the punishment.

A complaint was filed in the police station against the Ms. Katherine, the police ivestigators came to inspect the room that the suspension took place in and found that it’s a corridor between the secertary’s office and Ms.Katherine’s office and dropped the case.

The whole issue surfaced again early June, with an order to detain ms. kathrine. How ? why ? and what exactly triggered the detainment order, it is still unknown, but what is known is that it’s pure vengenace and getting back at a person who was simply enforcing school policy.

The threats are all TRUE, he stated that he will not feel satisfied until she spends a day in jail or gets deported.

This is simply a case of personal vengeance, and pure excersize of power.

To give an example of the craziness, he dragged his 11 year old son to the police station to testify against Ms. Katherine !!!

Contact anyone you can to help this woman out.

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6 thoughts on “Stay away from Kuwaiti schools, says international teachers group

  1. Reply Sue Jun 30,2007 9:31 am

    I used to work in Kuwait & although this type of incident among westerners was
    unknown in my experience (I was there some years), it’s occurrence does
    not surprise me in the slightest. Many a Kuwaiti would try to bully their
    way through with ‘wasta’. A generalisation but I
    think an accurate one, Kuwaitis are a relatively (some would say very)
    uncultured people who have recently (last few decades) been showered with
    large but unearned wealth (their efficiency is stone-age. All wealth from oil).

    The result is extraordinary & misplaced arrogance. John Simpson BBC says they
    are THE most arrogant people in the world in his experience.
    I couldn’t concur more.

    All non-Kuwaiti groups I have spoken to in Kuwait (& that includes Arabic
    and other non-K Muslims) detest Kuwaitis as a group.

    Bureacracy & contempt for the non-K here are infamous. Just one experience
    among countless, one bureaucrat kept me waiting half an hour to read his
    newspaper simply because he could. It’s all a display of power & contempt.
    He only dealt with me when I interupted him to tell him I was flying o/s that
    day. But only dealt with after his superior asked me what time! This is par
    for the course. Admittedly one gets a birdy occasionally & dealt with in
    a manner we take for granted in the west.

    I was there for the Kuwaiti oil-money only. The one they extract
    for $4/barrel & sell for $70.

    All the best to Katherine. To think that the US would spill blood & treasure for
    Kuwait (1990) but won’t raise a finger to protect their own. Scandalous.

  2. Reply wheatdogg Jul 1,2007 1:43 am

    Yeah, the response from the embassy was disappointing to say the least. Sounds like they figure she’s on her own.

  3. Reply S Jul 5,2007 8:37 pm

    She is out and alive, thus safe; safe hopefully with her family.
    As the ‘saying'(my version thereof)goes: you can pull a camel through a golden ring, it is still a camel.

  4. Reply Basil Clay Jul 9,2007 6:06 am

    I was born and raised in Kuwait (I’m a non-Kuwaiti Arab) and although I care about this country and have had good experiences here I absolutely detest the discrimination.

    The discrimination itself wouldn’t be so bad if the legal system and laws were applied properly – but they are not.

    And as bad as it can get, it’s not so bad for individuals with western citizenships. Although Katherine Philip’s case upset me, I’m glad it’s been resolved and she has managed to leave Kuwait.

    I want to point out that what Katherine Philips experienced is a drop in the pond compared to how these people treat poor expatriate workers from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, and Pakistan.

    If you think Katherine Philips’ situation is bad, be sure that there are thousands of the poorest workers in the world that get DAILY get treated infinitely worse – and they literally have ZERO rights since they are not white and they are not western and they are poor (a terrible combination in Kuwait).

    There are, for example, regular stories of poor workers (whose measly salaries average around 60 $USD a month for slave-like work hours) who REGULARLY are not paid their salaries for months by the labour contractor (i.e. modern day slave owner) who is employing them! Imagine! They contract out thousands of these poor workers to these companies, and sometimes keep their salaries without paying them! How rich do you need to get??

    OF course occassionally these people are punished, but I mean, the injustice here is terrible – and the few publicized cases where the law actually works are really the EXCEPTION.

    I am not complaining on my behalf, since I carry a foreign passport and am a middle class expatriate, so the discrimination does not bother me much. But I just wanted to point out the depths and despair of some of these poor workers in Kuwait and how they have absolutely no protection or no rights (neither their embassies give a damn nor any ‘so-called’ Kuwaiti NGO).

    Finally I was shocked that they would do this to an American citizen! It’s a generally accepted fact that Kuwaitis practically worship America and Americans after the Americans liberated them from Iraq! Talk about being grateful!

  5. Reply wheatdogg Jul 9,2007 11:11 am

    I was in the process of moving this past week, and so missed the news that Katherine had left the country. I am glad that aspect of the situation is now resolved.

    Whether the Kuwaiti public, or its government, is grateful to the US is debatable. Sure, we came in and stopped Saddam’s invasion, but we all know we sent in the Marines to save our access to the oil. Our government probably gives a rat’s ass about the Kuwaiti people, or the emir, and I suspect the Kuwaitis know that. Our handling of Iraq is also not winning us any friends in the Gulf either, no matter their opinions of Saddam.

    Still, it is unconscionable that any government should let one influential, loud-mouthed parent bully an educator because she had the nerve to discipline his unruly child. All schools have disciplinary codes and handbooks, and all parents are expected to sign their agreement to such documents before a school will enroll their child. At least in the US, these agreements are as binding as legal contracts. The school is assigned rights in loco parentis, and the parents understand that.

    Phillips’ ordeal reminds me of the horror stories we hear about Americans being harassed by the police in Third World countries, where they can be tossed in jail for indeterminate times at the whim of a cranky police officer. Kuwait, for all its oil and veneer of civilization, does not seem that much different.

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