NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 16:26
The Day of Practical Education was one of Dennis Wiersma’s last public appearances. The Minister for Primary and Secondary Education resigned yesterday following new allegations of “verbal and physical harassment”. What happened at the symposium that eventually killed him? About an unexpected arrival, changing the program and an atmosphere that changed.
It was a busy day in Bussum on 12 June to celebrate the 25th anniversary of practical education. Two halls of the Spant theater complex! were filled with teachers, companies and students who came together to exchange knowledge about practical education. The NOS spoke extensively with sixteen people present.
There was music, cabaret and an information market. Guest speakers shed light on various educational topics. According to those present, it was unclear for a long time whether Minister Wiersma would also come.
Behavioral biologist Patrick van Veen was the speaker for the break. He ended his speech with the advice to talk to each other: “I was talking about teachers having to pay more attention to each other.” A half hour break was a good opportunity for that.
But it turned out differently. “Suddenly it turned out that Dennis Wiersma was there before,” says Marleen van Schie of cabaret duo Buro Pinkenbiest. She was in the wings. “There was a nice atmosphere, everyone was in a good mood and then he comes to change the atmosphere.”
The break had to be shortened head over heels, because Wiersma immediately wanted to go on stage: “He arrived and then my colleagues told me that he wanted to be in the program at that moment, while it was his turn only an hour later,” said Van Schie.
A few sources who wish to remain anonymous say that it was “very rude”. Two members of the organization reported verbal and physical intimidation by Wiersma to the ministry. The physical intimidation is not recognized by the people NOS has spoken to. The organization confirms that an incident took place between the minister and employees of the organization. The organization does not want to say anything about the nature of this.
“We were quite angry about it,” says Van Schie. “It already had a long preparatory phase. It would come, not come, it would come. It was already a wobbly part.”
According to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, there was no question that the minister would not come: “There were consultations about the time of the performance. But it was never discussed that we were going to cancel it.”
When the minister arrived at the symposium, the break had just begun. “I had to get people back in in a short time,” said the pianist of the day.
A video from the Sector Council for Practical Education shows how Wiersma enters the stage with a broad smile. He talks with a student from practical education and with interviewer of the day André Dokman. “I saw a rather tense conversation on stage. Critical questions were asked,” says Van Veen.
Ask about fuss
During his conversation with Wiersma, Dokman knew that an incident had just taken place behind the scenes: “I did get something of it then.” At the end of the conversation, he asked Wiersma: “You have come under quite a bit of fire in recent months as a starting minister. Can you share with us how you look back on that?”
A question that seems to be an allusion to the incident that took place shortly before. However, according to Dokman, that was not the case: he had prepared the question. Wiersma seemed surprised by this: “Pooh, I thought: we are going to a completely different corner.” He doesn’t want to add anything to it because it touches people and he is talking to them.
The organization confirms that the questions were shared and discussed with the ministry in advance: “That was well before the conference. It also concerned this last question,” says organizer Nicole Teeuwen.
After the incident, there was “disbelief”. “Actually, you are abusing your status,” says Van Schie. “You hope that if you meet someone, it won’t be too bad. But this confirmed his spicy character.”
The Practical Education Sector Council writes in a new statement that the matter is not yet settled for them with the resignation of the minister: “Our employee deserves to be heard about the incident by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which is why we are now deciding the route of an official notification.”
A meeting would take place between the minister and the parties involved. “Whether there will be another meeting with Dennis Wiersma is currently unclear,” says the sector council.
The ministry indicates that the conversation will still take place, but not with Wiersma. “We will do that on behalf of the ministry. We do not yet know who will do it. But Wiersma will not do that.”
As long as Wiersma has not been succeeded, Minister Dijkgraaf of Education will take over his duties.