It was a mix of anger and bewilderment as parents of students attending Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School filed out of the Ministry of Education’s Constitution Road headquarters this afternoon following a 2 p.m. meeting with officials.
Some parents also expressed shock over the sudden announcement of the school’s closure a week ago, but it was the revelation made today of where the displaced students would be placed come September that caused the most frenzy.
With the planned closure of the Speightstown-based remedial institution at the end of the current school term, parents were officially informed this afternoon that affected students – 16 years or under – will be going to St George Secondary, Darryl Jordan Secondary and Grantley Adams Secondary School next term. However, those students who are over 16 have been taken out of the secondary school system altogether and are to be enrolled in skills training programmes with either Barbados Vocational Training Board (BVTB) or the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polyclinic.
The biggest issue for parents, besides the location of the three schools, was whether their wards would be able to keep up with their new curricula.
Fabian Clarke, a parent of a second former, was generally dissatisfied with the amount of information given by the officials today during the hour-long meeting.
And though he has already resigned himself to the fact that he really does not have a choice in the matter, he told Barbados TODAY he was genuinely concerned about whether his son, who is a slow learner, would be able to cope with his new school syllabus.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to beat myself over it . . . because when these children go to these schools they are still going to get put on the backburner.
“There is really no help whatsoever, so the school for me really doesn’t matter because the results are going to be the same – ‘go in the back because you are too slow,’” said the father whose son will be attending Darryl Jordan Secondary.
“I’m not really satisfied, but, at the same time, I think the education system isn’t really organized in itself, so I already made up my mind before I left home what I am going to do . . . for my child,” he said without elaborating.
However, Clarke suggested that the entire school population at Alma Parris of over 100 students should have been accommodated at one secondary school.
Other parents openly complained to Barbados TODAY about how the closure was handled by the school’s authorities, saying not only were they unaware of the planned closure of the school, but that the news came to them by way of the media and not through any official correspondence from either Alma Parris or the Ronald Jones-led ministry.
Melissa Evelyn was simply outraged over this fact, as she vented her anger at both Principal Valdez Francis and the education officials.
The mother of a 12-year-old explained that she was only made aware of the meeting by a fellow parent today and was informed of the school’s closure by one of her neighbours.
“The teachers said the ministry is supposed to give you a call. Why should I have to find out from social media that the school is going to be closed?
“I guess if [the children of] a couple of ministers or a couple of people that had a lot of money in their pockets were going there,
we would have gotten a letter or the school would not be shutting down,” the frustrated parent said.
She was also concerned about what the move would mean for the Alma Parris students, suggesting that it would be a difficult adjustment for the students to make.
“Nothing about this is fair because there [are] a lot of children here who are way more disadvantaged and probably can’t read or write properly and what are they going to do? Telling them we don’t have any place to send your child, that’s not fair!” she insisted.
In response to the decision to take her child, who turned 16 in December out of the secondary school system and place him in the BVTB programme, one parent told Barbados TODAY she blatantly refused to accept a letter to this effect from the education officers and simply walked out of this afternoon’s meeting.
“I will go to a different school and see if he is accepted,” the angry mother, who did not want to be identified, said.
Another mother of a 16-year-old boy was also visibly upset.
Andrea Proverbs revealed that her son, who hopes to be a graphic designer, was looking forward to entering Upper Fifth at Alma Parris next term and was already making preparations when the announcement of the school’s pending closure caught them by surprise.
“I just wondering why he wasn’t placed in a school that he could continue upper fifth and continue the Computer Studies, but they say the legal age is 16 and he will go the Vocational Training Board or Samuel Jackman Prescod Polyclinic if they have room,” Proverbs explained.
“I’m not happy because people apply early for these institutions so fingers crossed and toes crossed that he gets a place. . . . He is not a child that is going to go outside, but I don’t want him lingering,” she added.
However, in response to the concerns raised by the parents, Minister of Education Ronald Jones explained that the three recommended schools fit the same criteria as Alma Parris, which he referred to as an “experiment” which fulfilled its duty.
Jones also said the three schools followed the same agenda as the St Peter learning institution, but with larger student populations.
“Sometimes these things go astray because then you start to see yourself competing with existing schools whose intake is different to
your intake and that doesn’t make sense. That means you start to vary from the path or the agenda which was already established,” the minister said.
He also urged the parents to communicate their concerns to his ministry, while assuring that “anybody 16 and under will be in school, but those over 16 we will find space for them.
“It is just a matter of saying what your needs are. People make too many mountains out of molehills when simple conversation can solve a lot of the issues that might confront people,”
he said while pointing out that the Education Act simple states that education is compulsory up to 16.
“We have children in our schools today who are 18 and 19 and some of them are not doing sixth form education, some of them are doing returning fifths and double returning fifths,”
“They just need to say what their needs are because it is not our wish or desire to force children out of schools. When they are forced out, they find employment in other places that we don’t want,” Jones added. [email protected].