Parents of Grazettes Primary School students got an apology today and an assurance that while their children attend classes at the Breath of Life and Ebenezer Seventh Day Adventist churches next week, no effort would be spared to ensure the problem at the school is resolved.
Chief Education Officer Laurie King and his deputy, Karen Best, promised that students would not step foot back in the school until the lingering odour that has resulted in some teachers and students falling ill, was eliminated.
King told the more than 200 parents – some of them very agitated – who packed the Ellerslie Secondary School hall this evening that he understood their frustration and was sorry.
“I want to apologize to all of you on behalf of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour if you felt that you were out in the cold with respect to exactly what was going on,” he said.
“But I would hasten to add that we ourselves were not always sure when the problem would be corrected. At one point in time we felt we had it corrected and we said ‘go back to school’, then we got a call that ‘no, the problem is not corrected’ and we had to ask children to stay out again, so I apologize to all parents because of that.”
Best announced this evening that junior students – those from Nursery, Reception and Infants A and B – will have classes at Ebenezer Seventh Day Adventist Church in Eden Lodge, St Michael while the older students in Class One to Four will be housed at Breath of Life Seventh Day Adventist Church in White Hall, St Michael.
“I know we might have some peculiar situations where we have siblings that might be in the infants and the juniors. We can’t do any better because we don’t have anywhere we can hold all the children in one place,” she said.
Best said buses would be provided to transport children between the alternate locations and the Grazettes Community Centre and parents were welcome to travel on the buses; arrangements would be made with the School Meals Department to ensure lunches were delivered to the churches; and security would also be provided at the churches.
Classes will continue at the SDA churches for three weeks while health and education authorities work to ventilate the school.
Best said if the matter was not resolved within that time, the churches had indicated the children could continue classes there for as long as necessary.
“Give us the three weeks and let us see. But one thing I promised the teachers yesterday is that there is a teacher we are going to use as a barometer and we are going to get that teacher to go back in. We are not going to put your children or the teachers back into the school unless we are satisfied that the problem is [solved],” she said.
The deputy chief education officer also gave an assurance that Class Four students who will set the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination next year will get extra attention to make up for the more than three weeks of classes they have missed.
Agreeing with the parents that their children had been out of school for too long, Best said: “We are going to make sure your children get the needed attention to catch up.”
During this evening’s meeting, tempers flared and officials had to appeal several times for order to be restored to the meeting, as parents were vocal about their frustrations.
Some questioned why it was taking so long to address the problem at Grazettes Primary if fogging was the only issue.
However, Ministry of Health officials explained that because the school was closed and the fogging was done through small areas that had little ventilation, the chemicals could not properly disperse and the odour therefore remained.
It was for that reason, Best said, that furniture at the school would not be moved to the churches. She said new desks and tables that had been bought for other schools would be redirected.
The senior education official said while she understood the need for fogging, given the increase in the number of cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, it must be done right in the future.
“The only thing I want is that protocol be observed and that is, when you are fogging, let us know so that the school would be open, just like our homes our open and this would not happen again,” she said.
While most parents are satisfied that their children will finally be able to settle down to work, some remain doubtful that the odour is the only problem that needs to be resolved.
Chrystal Wiggins, who has three children at the school, said the problem was much bigger.
She told reporters that there was a need for the entire surroundings to be cleaned.
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