Attempts to persuade staff of the Combermere School that it is safe to return to the classroom did not go over as smoothly as the Ministry of Education may have hoped.
Staff members were summoned to a meeting at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic Friday morning to hear first-hand the findings of the research team assembled by the ministry to prove the environmental issues that forced the closure of the school five weeks ago.
The resource personnel who spent the last five weeks investigating the source of the problem, presented myriad reasons, including the improper storage of chemicals, improper dispersion of fumes generated in the Chemistry laboratory, septic issues and a need for industrial cleaning.
The team also divulged that they did not detect the foul odour which staff and students complained was causing them discomfort over the last two academic years.
However, the investigators failed to identify the cause of the latest bout of nausea, itching and fainting, leaving several staff members apprehensive about returning to the school.
“Why are we here and not there [at Combermere]? We are here because students and teachers were getting sick at Combermere School. That is the reason we are not there, but yet I have heard in the midst of all these brilliant presentations, nothing about the things which have affected us. I have heard about gases in the Chemistry labs and so on, but my question is, when you put all these things in place, will it solve the problem of the nausea, itching of the eyes and all these things?” asked outspoken Senior Teacher Reverend Charles Morris.
Morris described the meeting as an affront to the intelligence of staff, charging that it called into question their ability to accurately articulate the problems they were experiencing.
“I am hearing a brilliant industrial exercise but I am not hearing the things that are affecting me, the things that are affecting the very students that we care about at Combermere. I feel hurt when I come to these meetings because nobody could address what is happening at Combermere School. I am sure that many of the staff members would tell you that now that they are operating from a different location, they are no longer experiencing these symptoms . . . . Treat me with some degree of intelligence and treat the staff as human beings,” Morris pleaded.
In response, Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Barbados Light & Power Brian Reece beseeched the staff to allow the measures to fully run their course before attempting to determine if their concerns were fully addressed.
“I promise you it is not our intention to be inhumane or insensitive. This attempt to discover the root cause for the closure of the school was done with all consideration for all staff and students who have experienced some measure of discomfort.
“I appreciate that I cannot tell you with firm and full confidence that tomorrow all is well but I can assure that the measures we presented are at least the beginning of a new start . . . . I will ask for the opportunity to at least see those recommendations through to completion,” Reece said.
However, Morris later told Barbados TODAY the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union would discuss the matter to determine the next step for staff when the new term begins in January.