Wesley Hall junior and infants schools were closed around noon today as a precautionary measure, with a top education official assuring affected staff and students that Government would not allow another Louis Lynch Secondary School environmental health situation to develop at the Kings Street, St Michael institutions.
It was in reference to the serious health concerns that prompted an environmental assessment at the now defunct Louis Lynch (formerly known as Roebuck Secondary) back in 2005, which found that there were contaminants in the air.
Since then, the environmental problems have been blamed on subsequent health challenges – including cancer – that have affected former students and staff at the White Park Road learning institution.
And while these reports have not been fully substantiated, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Senator Harry Husbands today acknowledged that just as was the case with Louis Lynch, the nearby Tropical Laundries on Whitepark Road was at the centre of complaints at Wesley Hall.
“The ministry is dead serious about protecting the interest of the teachers and the students . . . at both of these schools and we intend to do all in our power to safeguard their interests. So whoever is responsible, whatever entity is responsible, I want them to . . . take all the necessary steps to correct this problem,” he told reporters after a team of education officials, including Chief Education Officer Karen Best and Deputy Chief Education Officer Joy Adamson visited the schools and met with the principals to assess the severity of the situation.
“This is a problem that we intend to wrestle to the ground because there is nothing standing in the way of the construction of a new school here at Wesley Hall,” he added.
However, Principal of Wesley Hall Juniors Herbert Gittens said today was not the first time that the school had been bothered by the noxious fumes.
“Last school year, we had situations where we had to evacuate about four times, so this is an ongoing situation and obviously it is affecting the staff and the pupils of the school and we are really looking forward to a solution so that we can continue the business of teaching and learning,” said Gittens, who has been the principal of Wesley Hall Juniors since 2012.
He also told Barbados TODAY that he had reached out to the owners of Tropical Laundries who had promised to make the necessary changes to their operations.
However, despite these assurances he said the issue remained unresolved.
“Teachers are complaining and they are agitated and we really would like an end to this situation,” the principal said.
One teacher, who requested anonymity, complained about the slow response to the problem, which has been reoccurring since the beginning of the school term, with several teachers and students complaining of respiratory illnesses, including wheezing, sore throats and asthma attacks.
“It is a vexing issue . . . because this is supposed to be an environment of learning and we cannot learn if every week we are outside because of this smoke from wherever,” argued the educator.
“We are losing valuable teaching time and putting the health of the nation’s children at risk and the teachers,” the teacher emphasized.
Barbados TODAY also spoke to some students who described today’s emissions as the worst ever.
“I was feeling bad, my belly was hurting. It happened before but it wasn’t so bad,” a Class 2 student said, adding that “all of [the students] in my class were coughing”.
However, Kings Street resident Anthony Knight said he was not bothered by the smoke, neither were his two sons who are asthmatics.
“We hardly had smell or smoke [this morning],” he told Barbados TODAY, adding, “I don’t really have a problem but I guess if the school has to keep on closing then there is a problem.”
Meanwhile, another resident who has lived within the urban district for over 40 years, said she had been having a problem off and on, but described the effects as minimal.
It was not immediately clear when classes would resume at the two affected schools.