The controversial acacia trees are still standing, but from all reports received by the President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) Mary Redman, the recent environmental crisis at the Combermere School has abated.
Redman told Barbados TODAY that due to remedial work carried out during the Easter holidays on the compound of the Waterford, St Michael learning institution, teachers and students were no longer falling ill.
This was after Minister of Education Ronald Jones reported that Combermere had been affected for some time by acacia trees and that the ministry was working to have them removed.
“In the meantime, we have had some understanding that persons who cut grass and shrubs would not do that during the time that children are in operation at the school because from the time you bruise one [acacia tree], it . . . gives off this protective gas called ethylene gas,” the minister revealed last month at the start of the current school term.
He had also disclosed that improvements were made to the plumbing, the septic tanks were cleaned and new measures were implemented to stop birds from nesting and breeding on the compound.
“We will also work with the community which surrounds that school to ensure that whatever they are doing would conform to the best environmental standards and the burning of any trash, or any material would not proliferate in the presence of the school and become trapped in classrooms,” Jones had said then.
The current situation at Combermere came up for discussion at Tuesday’s BSTU quarterly meeting, the first in two years. However, there is to be a follow-up meeting on June 28 to consider the status of recommendations, including an environmental study at the school.
Redman pointed out that a nurse was to have been assigned at Combermere, as one of the pre-conditions for having the students and teachers return there after the Waterford institution was affected by a number of closures since the beginning of the school year last September.
Asked if the acacia trees were cut, the union official chuckled before responding, “The trees are still there, but certainly I have received no reports of problems.”
Redman also confirmed that controversial Anglican cleric Reverend Charles Morris, who teaches at Combermere, was back in the classroom following recent sick leave.
“I have heard nothing further in relation to any disciplinary action,” she told Barbados TODAY after the Ministry of Education had charged the head of the school’s History Department with breaching General Orders and the Public Service Act and had summoned him to a disciplinary hearing which never took place.
The action was taken after Morris spoke publicly about the environmental problems at Combermere in an interview with Barbados TODAY, during which he had also called for the removal of Principal Vere Parris.
The BSTU spokeswoman confirmed today that tempers had cooled somewhat. She also reported that “things also seem to have settled down at Springer Memorial after workmen had concluded much of the heavy work and dusty work”.
“The noisy work had ended,” Redman said.
Asked to comment on the pay dispute between the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the ministry, Redman said her union had written a lengthy letter outlining its position on the matter and was “anxiously” awaiting the ministry’s response to the letter on the salary deductions.
She did not go into detail on the contents of the letter, but the BUT has already publicly condemned the move by the ministry to cut the pay of teachers who attended two of its recent meetings.
During a news conference held at its Merry Hill, St Michael headquarters last Sunday, BUT President Pedro Shepherd said based on the legal advice the union had received, there were absolutely no grounds for the ministry to take such punitive action against its members and he called on the ministry to withdraw the letters.
So far, the ministry has refused to budge.