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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Major Countries Seek Proper Forest Trade

Representatives of sixteen countries from the EU and Asia met Tuesday in a bid to improve regional forestry protection and promote timber trade between Asia and Europe.

“Forest products, timber products, contribute a very important and large share of the plate between the Asian region and the European Union,” said Tim Makela, director of the office for Sustainable Development and Integration at the European Commission’s General Environment Directorate. “So timber products, forest products, they are important for our economy.”

The Food and Agricultural Organization estimated in 2001 that the total value of word trade in forest products had reached $140 billion, linking Asian, North American and European markets. But a World Bank report on illegal logging in 2006 said annual global losses from illegal cutting were more than $10 billion, more than eight times the development assistance for sustainable forestry management.

Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said Tuesday Cambodia and other countries “will be able to establish a work plan to improve forest governance and law enforcement and reduce the illegal trade in forest products.”

Cambodia once exported its forestry products to foreign markets like the now defunct Soviet Union, but it banned such exports in 2001, according to Chheng Kim Sun, the new director of Cambodia’s forestry administration, under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Cambodia still faces an illegal logging trade, he said, especially to Vietnam and China.

Chheng Kim Sun replaced Ty Sokhun, who was publicly fired in April after Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wasn’t doing enough to combat the crime.

Cambodia has meanwhile been engaged on a crackdown, seizing more than 6,000 cubic meters of wood and charging more than 100 people for crimes, Chheng Kim Sun said.

The EU’s Makela said good governance helps eliminate illegal forestry, which protects against deforestation.

Tuesday was the opening of two days of forestry meetings and drew representatives from Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
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Lowell teacher fired for failing English fluency tests may get job back

By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

A former Lowell teacher who was fired because she failed state-mandated English fluency tests may get her job back as a result of a decision today by the Supreme Judicial Court.

In a unanimous ruling, the state's high court said an arbitrator did not violate state law when he ruled that the Lowell School Committee had no right to dismiss Phanna Kem Robishaw, a first-grade teacher from Cambodia who failed English-speaking tests.

"Applying the well-settled limitations on judicial review of an arbitrator's decision, we conclude that the arbitrator's award in this case should be affirmed," Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the court.

In its ruling, the SJC said it was not passing judgment on the validity or legality of the English-speaking requirement that was added to the state's lawbooks as the result of a statewide referendum. In 2002, voters approved Question 2, which required, among other things, that all classroom teachers pass proficiency tests in English.

In 2003, the Lowell School Department implemented the new rules and Robishaw was required to take the tests. At the time, Robishaw had taught for 10 years at the Greenhalge School, where nearly 50 percent of the students were Cambodian immigrants.

A survivor of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, Robishaw had four state teaching licenses to her credit when she failed two types of fluency tests, according to the SJC. She went on medical leave for post-traumatic stress disorder linked to her life in Cambodia and sought to get her job back in 2005.

But Lowell school officials, citing the 2003 failures, fired her instead. In 2007, an arbitrator ruled the school was wrong to conduct the tests when Robishaw was being treated for a psychiatric disorder and that her life story was an inspiration to her students.

The school committee appealed, and a Middlesex Superior Court judge ruled that the public policy requirements approved by voters in Question 2 must be applied to Robishaw. The judge included an audiotape of Robishaw speaking in the ruling to strengthen the conclusion that Robishaw was unfit to teach.

But the SJC said that under state law, judges cannot wholly substitute their own conclusions for those made by an arbitrator. "The judge was not free to reject the arbitrator's findings or his legal conclusion,'' Botsford wrote.

The SJC said that the arbitrator's conclusions did not violate state law requiring teachers to be fluent in English because the proficiency testing "must have been conducted in a procedurally appropriate manner and must be based on the use of substantively valid standards. If it was not, the superintendent's fluency determination need not be accepted. The judge was not free to reject the arbitrator's findings or his legal conclusion.''

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