Chanting “we need a new school” and “enough is enough”, a group of about 25 parents and students protested outside the Belmont Primary School this morning, complaining of deplorable conditions at the Government-run learning institution.
Today’s protest came amid the closure of the school, which has been affected over the past two days by a pungent odour that is said to be coming from a nearby farm.
On Wednesday, the doors to the My Lords Hill, St Michael institution were abruptly closed just after 1p.m. on account of the foul smell, and late this evening the Ministry of Education announced that classes would also be suspended on Friday owing to the environmental problem.
“The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation has reassured parents that its officers and those of the Ministry of Health are working assiduously to find the source of the problem,” the ministry said in a brief statement issued by the Barbados Government Information Service this evening.
No reference was made to today’s protest. However, when a Barbados TODAY team arrived at the school around 9 a.m. Thursday, it was met by a group of angry parents who openly vented their frustration over the stench, which they said began affecting Belmont Primary over the weekend and was responsible for the invasion of a swarm of flies onto the school’s compound.
“[The scent] was there from Monday, so it means the children had to endure the scent [for most of the week], along with flies,” said an outspoken Tracy Whitehall, who was shocked to discover that there were flies “all around the school [and] all over the children” when she arrived at Belmont on Wednesday.
“ How can we say we want to be [clean] and the children are in these unsanitary conditions?” she asked, adding that “I had to go call the janitor to ask her to sprinkle something on the floor [because] I have never seen flies like these before.
“I honestly thought they were cockroaches,” she added.
Apart from the current stench, the disgruntled parent, who was today armed with a placard, also expressed concern that “the school has no security.
“We have a security hut, but no security [guard],” she told Barbados TODAY, adding that the building was poorly lit.
“If you come out here at night it is pitch dark,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Whitehall further accused the Ministry of Education of neglecting the school and “letting down” the children.
“Belmont has been on the list to be rebuilt for the last 15 to 20 years and every year they are saying, ‘not this year, next year’,” she said, while suggesting that better could be done by Government.
“The Government has no money but you can still see schools popping up,” she said, while calling the situation “ridiculous” and warning that parents were no longer prepared to accept it.
“Every year you hear the same story. I am tired and fed of their empty promises, lack of security and ignorance. If we as parents don’t come out here and stand up for our children we will have no future.
“I want the Ministry of Education to know that we as parents have had enough. We will no longer send our children into the school with these conditions.”
Echoing Whitehall’s sentiments, an equally disturbed Anita Cummings-Bruce, who is the newly elected president of the school’s Parent-Teachers Association (PTA), told reporters that the conditions had gotten so bad that parents were earlier forced to take matters into their own hands and spruce up around the compound,
This included mowing the lawn, which she said was overgrown with bush.
However, suggesting that enough was enough, the PTA spokeswoman suggested that the time had come for the Freundel Stuart administration to either carry out the necessary repairs or provide new accommodation for the 210 students at Belmont Primary.
“These children are our future leaders, so we have to do something. I personally can’t take it anymore. I was here yesterday to have a PTA meeting and I could actually taste the [foul] scent.
“We need to have something done. I am sick and tired of hearing that we are going to get a new school. From 2009 I was hearing that and enough is enough. We don’t want a new school, we need a new school,” she said.
Another parent Trisha Cadogan, whose son will be sitting the 11-plus exam next May to enter secondary school, was concerned about the amount of class time the students were missing on account of the current environmental problems.
“We don’t know how long this will go on for. Unless the ministry [comes] out and tells us what will happen, it means the kids are going to miss an additional day or even two weeks to get this rectified.
“We can’t have the kids missing lessons like that with the 11-plus around the corner . . . It’s not right,” she said.
Today’s protest is second such demonstration in as many weeks following the October 27 action by parents and guardians of the students at the St Mark’s Primary in St Philip institution who also describe the conditions their charges are faced with as deplorable.