Teachers at Combermere School have agreed to return to the classroom Tuesday. However this decision came only after their concerns over the environmental problems at the Waterford, St Michael learning institution were allayed at virtually the 11th hour.
The consensus came after an hour-long meeting between staff and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) at the school Monday afternoon, which followed an examination by members of staff, BSTU, parents and representatives from the Ministry of Education, of the remedial work conducted by the environmental team.
Last week, then acting Minister of Education Harry Husbands had revealed that the school, which closed since last November, would re-open at the start of the new term.
However a cloud of uncertainty had hovered over the resumption date, as teachers insisted that they must be first convinced that the issues which posed a threat to their health had been satisfactorily resolved.
BSTU President Mary Redman said despite the fact there was work left to be done, the teachers had voted to return to the classroom “given the volume of work that has taken place and the fact that they too are interested in resuming classes with the students.
“There are extensive areas of work still to be completed but given all of that, they have decided in good faith to return to the school and so doing test the environment because the team of experts have said that the environment can best be tested when it is occupied. So to really know the effectiveness of what was done warm bodies need to be in the plant. So they are coming back to work, but they are doing so with the understanding that they coming to test the environment,” Redman stressed.
The outstanding work includes the installation of a filter in the chemical disposal system affixed to the chemistry lab.
All residual issues are expected to be resolved in short order as funds have already been allocated for them, according to Project Manager of the Education Project Implementation Unit Richard Harrison, who led the walkthrough.
Redman promised that the BSTU would vigorously monitor the situation in order to ensure the promised are kept.
“The promise was made that it would be addressed shortly and we are going to be following up [on all of the promises] that we were given. What the teacher will attempt to do in the meantime is delay the type of work which would delay immediate use of those gas fume chambers,” the BSTU president said.
The union leader stressed that the findings of the environmental team had confirmed that students and teachers were not putting on an act when they complained that the environment at the school was making them sick.
“All of the findings – sewage, chemicals, mold – all . . . contributed to the real illness that the teachers and the students experienced, all contributed to the large sums of money which teachers had to spend in medical bills.”
Meantime, Husbands, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, admitted that a trial and error approach had been adopted in Government’s search for an answer to the problems at Combermere School.
“Problem solving is like this: you attempt one thing, that doesn’t work, you attempt another and we keep going at it until we resolve the issue. I don’t know that all of the issues are finally resolved but I am satisfied that the work that has been done will put us firmly in the right direction,” he said.