President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman has added her voice to a call for a police investigation into allegations of sabotage at Combermere School in Waterford, St Michael.
Redman made the comment in light of yet another disruption of classes at the school Tuesday morning following the return of the foul stench that has been a constant feature of the longstanding environmental woes plaguing the learning institution.
When Barbados TODAY arrived at the school at 10:30 Tuesday morning an ambulance was seen entering the premises. Several parents had already arrived to collect their charges. Scores of children could also be seen filing onto the playing field, an obvious indicator that it was not business as usual at the school, considered one of this island’s leading educational institutions.
Classes were reported to have resumed at 11:30 a.m., but one hour later students were again out of the classroom as the foul odour resurfaced.
The prolonged environmental problem has been a source of frustration for students, teachers and the authorities, and the cause of much angry and often bitter exchanges involving Minister of Education Ronald Jones, Principal Vere Parris and head of the History Department Reverend Charles Morris. Among the most contentious issues are claims by both Parris and Jones that sabotage had been the cause of the problem; leading Morris to ridicule both men and insist that Jones should call the police.
Redman Tuesday joined Morris in insisting that Jones should invite lawmen to prove that sabotage was the cause for the recent flare-ups.
Jones told Parliament two weeks ago there appeared to be “a deliberate attempt to sabotage the work that has been taking place over the last several months”, with two natural gas pipes in one of the Science labs being left on for about 45 minutes after a class and hand towels and children’s book leaves discovered blocking a drainage pipe from a toilet.
However in an interview with Barbados TODAY Tuesday afternoon, Redman refuted these claims, adding that she had been in constant communication with the environmental team in charge of the school’s rehabilitation and they had painted a different picture.
“If there is evidence to support the sabotage then definitely the police should be called in because if that is the way of getting the problems at the school solved then that should be done forthwith. However there were certain statements made by the minister which the team of experts did not have the information to support.
“The minister said that hand towels were found in the sewage system and I am not aware of any hand towels being found. The term conjures up an image of fabric but what the team of experts actually did see was paper towels. The team also did not see any evidence of torn exercise books when they did their investigations . . . . What the team did in fact see was paper towels and wipes,” Redman contended.
Combermere School reopened at the beginning of the academic term, having been closed since last November after teachers walked off the job complaining of a foul odour, dizziness, itching and burning. The Ministry of Education was given the go-ahead by an environmental team comprising former students that had undertaken remedial work and had given the assurance that it was safe to return, although they had made it clear the situation would have to be monitored.
However, just over a month into the new term there have already been two disruptions, believed to be linked to the recurring environmental issues.
Redman confirmed she had been made aware of the situation at the school Tuesday morning and she was awaiting details before deciding on the next step.
“I got a call and then some messages from shop stewards at the school, advising that there seems to be a problem with scents again. One shop steward indicated that it might be a gas leak and that the NCC [National Conservation Commission] and other officials had been called in and are assessing the situation. There was a plan in place so that if students were affected they would initially go to the hall and if that area became compromised then they would go onto the fields,” Redman explained.
At the beginning of the term, Redman had said the staff were committed to testing the effectiveness of the corrective measures put in place by the environmental team.
However in light of today’s occurrence, she acknowledged that their patience had been severely tested in a short space of time.
“Everybody wants a solution to the problem for the safety and well-being of both teachers and students; everybody wants to see the problem solved and everybody is willing to work towards a resolution of the problem and we are truly hoping that the matters will be resolved. However, at moment the teachers have been exercising a lot of patience and restraint so far,” the BSTU head stressed.