Trouble may be brewing again at Combermere School, which has been plagued by a long running and troublesome environmental problem that has forced several closures.
The Ministry of Education is being put on notice that teachers at the Waterford, St Michael institution no longer intended to tolerate the conditions that have caused students and staff to fall ill at various times since the issue arose more than two years ago.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) said the teachers were quite patient last term, after a team of specialists made up of former students had said they had identified and rectified the problem, which had forced a five-week closure of the school last November.
However, BSTU President Mary Redman said their patience had run out.
“We are putting the ministry on guard that our teachers and students have put up with, and made accommodation for, this major health hazard all term long. It will not continue into next term,” Redman said during her address at the union’s annual general meeting at Harrison College Tuesday morning.
Following “an extensive and fairly rigorous” examination, the five-member research team of technical specialists had concluded in January that chemical waste from Science labs was one of the main reasons behind the pungent smell that had caused such consternation among students and staff.
The group had also suggested that inappropriate storage and management of chemicals in the Science block might have contributed to the noxious odours that had been noticeable for months.
Seemingly satisfied with the assurances of the five-member research team, the BSTU had lifted its objection to the reopening of school at the start of the second term in January.
However, there have been a number of disruptions since, with various reports of illness among both students and staff.
In the meantime, Minister of Education Ronald Jones in February repeated an earlier assertion that there had been “a deliberate attempt to sabotage” work being done at the school, an accusation that was flatly dismissed by senior teacher Reverend Charles Morris as a “stupid” theory that could not be verified.
Redman Tuesday revisited the subject as she stressed that the issues at the school were far from over.
“Let me state emphatically that the problems at Combermere are not over. This term has seen a continuation of smells and stenches invading different sections of the school compound and at times forcing the evacuation of classes. I have seen reports from members during the course of every week of last term about these ongoing problems.
“Whether it is sabotage as some have stated based on the reported presence of paper towels or the torn exercise books . . . the expert team has seen no actual evidence of either, [neither] have we seen any pictorial evidence which the minister claims to have,” the union president said.
The BSTU head charged that ministry and school management were fully cognizant of the continued barrage of complaints, but instead of redoubling their efforts to fix the problem, they had “chosen to bury their heads in the sand”.
She also accused the school’s administration and the Parent Teachers’ Association (PTA) of misleading the public about the day-to-day realities at the school.
“They have access to the reported number of students that have fallen ill, the number of times that ambulances have removed children from the compound, the number of teachers that continue to fall ill. The reported situation is untenable and neither the administration of the school nor the PTA can be allowed to misrepresent the situation by blaming passing garbage trucks or truck containing offal or in the case of the PTA president who stated that the students that were seen on field and photographed by the press were actually there because it was break time,” she stressed.
While Redman did not say what action the union intended to take should the environmental concerns continue into the new term, she was adamant that the health of staff and students would be paramount.
“Common sense, care and concern for the health and well-being for all persons on the compounds must now take precedence over anything and everything else, and all parties involved had better be aware of our position on this,” Redman stressed.