A former education official says she is disappointed, but not surprised by last week’s announcement by Government of the closure of the Alma Parris Secondary School in St Peter.
In fact, former parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Education Cynthia Forde has suggested that the shutdown was long in coming.
“For two years, the Government had a plan to close Alma Parris School because no children were assigned to the school that should hold 150 children,” said Forde, while also charging that Minister of Education Ronald Jones had been dead set against the establishment of the remedial school from the very beginning.
Addressing a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) political meeting on Wednesday night, an upset Forde, the Opposition Member of Parliament for St Thomas, charged that when the former BLP administration opened Alma Parris back in 1995 under the Alternative Secondary School programme, Jones had disparagingly referred to it as “the A.S.S.” school.
“When we were doing the consultations on an Alternate Secondary School . . . this current Minister of Education, as the Barbados Union of Teachers president, said, ‘it is the A.S.S. school’ . . . from the time
. . . we were in the ministry formulating for the Alma Parris school to be established, that was already dismissed by that minister,” she insisted.
However, the former teacher stressed that the institution was never intended to be a “marker”.
“A lot of parents are relying on schools like Alma Parris for their children to be able to see a future that will blossom,” she said, while also taking Jones to task for suggesting that the school was an “experiment” which had been fulfilled over the past 22 years.
“How can the minister call that an experiment? He is more an experiment at education because he failed and failed and failed,” a fired up Forde said.
However, Government is proceeding with the planned closure, with Jones suggesting Thursday that a special school for slow learners was unnecessary.
“We have this notion that we have to create fancy schools for children. These are children not challenged by a physical or major mental issues like autism or dysgraphia or any one of those other issues,” Jones said after meeting with parents of the displaced Alma Parris students at the ministry’s Constitution Road, St Michael headquarters.
Government plans to accommodate the majority of the displaced 60 students at St George Secondary, Darryl Jordan Secondary and Grantley Adams Secondary School next term. However, those students who are over 16 years of age or over 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 or the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polyclinic, with Jones contending that there was no need to create another institution similar to Alma Parris.
However, Forde argued that with students falling behind in the educational system and engaging in acts of deviance, such an institution was needed now more than ever.
“We need the Alma Parris School and another one of its kind more than ever now because a lot of our children are suffering [and] classes are too big,” the St Thomas MP said.
Parents of students attending Alma Parris have expressed shock over the sudden announcement of the school’s closure a week ago. However, after meeting with education officials here on Thursday, they said the biggest issue for them was whether their wards would be able to keep up with their new curricula.