Combermere teachers have been absolved!
That was the position of outspoken teacher Reverend Charles Morris who finally exhaled after receiving assurances that it was now safe for students and teachers to return to school.
The teachers had come in for criticism after walking off the job last November, complaining that recurring environmental problems were making the sick.
Not for the first time, the Ministry of Education was forced to close the school to investigate the source of the problem and to solve it once and for all.
Following “an extensive and fairly rigorous” examination, a team of technical specialists concluded that inappropriate storage and management of chemicals in the science block was responsible for the noxious odours that had caused discomfort to students and teachers.
Having heard from the team of five Combermere old scholars, Morris told journalists the decision by teachers to walk off the job last November after several staff members had complained of burning eyes and fainting, proved to be the correct one.
“The teachers made a decision to walk out and they have been vindicated. There has been something wrong in the school,” he said.
Since the complaints began over a year ago, the Ministry of Education and Combermere Principal Vere Parris had attributed the environmental concerns to virtually everything, from neighbouring acacia tress and sabotage of sewer caps.
Morris, a vocal critic of both the ministry and Vere Parris over their handling of the problem, was pleased with the findings presented Monday to teachers.
However, he suggested the level of urgency paid to the issue after last November’s outbreak ought to have been present from the very beginning.
“I am satisfied that the team of experts did all that they could do to ensure that this place is made a safe place for us to educate the nation’s children,” Morris said.
“We have had these issues before. However what I do not understand is where other groups have come in before. They have done a number of tests and all these kind of things but the level of which this team of experts has operated is far superior to what has been done before. It is only now we are being told that there are real environmental issues in this school making teachers and students sick.”
Up until Monday’s meeting, it was not clear if Combermere teachers would return to the classroom.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union had said its members would first have to be convinced their concerns had been satisfactorily resolved before they showed up for work.
Tuesday morning, the sound of the bell was music to the ears of the hundreds of parents and students filing through the school’s gates.
It was the first time most would have entered the compound since the closure.
While students seemed quite eager to see their friends after their prolonged unscheduled time away from the school, parents approached the start of the school term with cautious optimism.
They expressed hope that measures implemented by the environmental experts would finally fix the problem. As a matter of fact, one parent offered a prayer of hope when asked by Barbados TODAY to describe her feelings about the highly anticipated reopening of the school.
“My prayer God is that you would stretch your hand out over the school, over the teachers and over every student this morning that all the nonsense would be over,” she fervently prayed.
“It could have been done a lot quicker but I guess that is how it is; but I am very pleased to see that he is back out to school and I hope that everything goes well for everybody,” added another parent of his son.
“I am just happy that my daughter is out of the house and back in her books because the situation was driving me crazy. I am really hoping that we have no more issues in this new term because I don’t really know what I would do in that case,” stressed a concerned guardian.
However, amid the joy of having their charges’ education back on stream, parents were now focused on how the school would make up for the five weeks of teaching which was lost.
A number of parents and guardians felt the school should suspend its participation at the annual Barbados Secondary Schools Athletic Championships in an effort to make up for lost teaching time.
“Right now the children need to be focused and get back to learning. I think sports could definitely be left out this term because this not a normal term. The children have a lot of work to catch up, so if it were up to me sports would have to wait,” parent Rhonda Wiltshire opined.