Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) candidate for St Philip North Dr Sonia Browne has poured cold water on claims made by Minister of Education Ronald Jones that last week’s protest march at St Mark’s Primary School was political.
On Friday, a number of frustrated, placard-bearing parents and guardians picketed outside of the compound, complaining of deplorable conditions at the Government-run, St Philip learning institution.
Three days later, Jones publicly accused the Opposition BLP of playing politics with the lives of the students, while suggesting there was no real reason for protests at this time.
In fact, while insisting that those involved in last week’s demonstration were agents of the Opposition BLP, he reported that a number of improvements were made to the school in the 2015/2016 academic year, including changing the roof, refurbishing the main building and changes to the toilets.
“What I’m condemning is the propagandistic approach taken by some to feather their own nest, ignorant of what has gone before. So in the presence of deliberate ignorance, one gets this deliberate propagandistic approach,” Jones told Barbados TODAY on Monday.
However in response, Browne, who has a four year-old daughter enrolled at the school, said Friday’s march was not politically motivated.
“There is a history behind that march. We had our first PTA [Parent-Teachers Association] meeting in either late September or early October, nothing to do with politics at all, and it was noted that several of the parents were disgusted by the state of the school.
“I made sure that I did not open my mouth so no one could say it’s politically motivated. They came up with the idea to step up action to get the school fixed after letters were sent to the ministry and nothing was done,” Browne said, while insisting that the action had “nothing to do with the Barbados Labour Party”.
The BLP hopeful also dismissed Jones’ suggestion that a number of improvements were made to the learning environment.
“The toilets are in a mess, the girls bathroom is not tiled, there was not a single seat on the toilet the week before school began. I, along with some of the parents, put together some money and I personally went to Carters [general store] and purchased the seats.
“No tiling is on the floor. In the boys’ bathroom, the urinals were spilling over because the water could not be locked off. The doors stayed open, [so] I am a little unclear as to where the work is,” the concerned parent said, adding that “if anything was done, it was a very slight paint job, but putting icing on a disgusting cake does not make it better”.
She also complained that the walkways were “horrible”.
“My child fell at least on three occasions through a fence that isn’t fixed properly, [so] I am yet to see these improvements [and] we also have a lot of loose wires that the boys could eventually fiddle with.”
Browne, who is also a past student of St Mark’s Primary, suggested that a new school should be built posthaste to accommodate the St Philip students, who she said were unable to accommodate a visit by the then Governor General Sir Elliott Belgrave last year, owing to the school’s unkempt state.
“I left that school when I was about eight years old and it looks the exact same way [now],” she said, while dismissing the latest promise by Jones that a new school was coming.
“This is election time so I expect to hear things like that,” she said.
While not disclosing the next stage of action, Browne, a member of the school’s PTA, said parents would continue to keep pressure on the authorities to restore the century-old school building.
“We are giving them sometime to see what can happen. It is only fair. The PTA meets again in a couple of weeks and then we will decide where to go from here, but we will not be letting it rest. St Mark’s pupils deserve the same as any other school on the island in terms of renovations and new play grounds,” Browne insisted.