Minister of Education Ronald Jones has made it clear he is unhappy with the manner in which the recurring cow itch problem affecting Blackman and Gollop Primary School has been handled, although the object of his displeasure is not so clear.
At the same time, Jones has sought to absolve his ministry of any blame for the problem, which today forced the closure of the Staple Grove, Christ Church school for the second time in as many weeks.
Teachers walked off the job this morning complaining that the problem had not yet been resolved even though the school was subjected to industrial cleaning last month, following its closure on February 20 for one week, during which time officials from the Ministry of Health cleaned a nearby field where the problem is believed to have originated.
However, up until this morning, the vine that had been cut and placed in heaps on the vacant property next to the school, and the dry pods, were still there.
“When I was informed today that school had to be closed again today I was very disappointed because I thought that they had gotten rid of the cow itch,” Jones told Barbados TODAY.
“When they clean it up and heap it up without burning it you are still going to have the pods exposed and it’s going to affect anything down wind of it. This seems to be the case in this instance and I would hope that they are able to bring the problem under complete control by this evening so that the children’s education is not further disrupted. Right now I am not pleased,” he stressed.
A number of parents this morning expressed frustration at the ongoing problem, with one mother explaining that her daughter had developed blisters from the vine, which is infamous for its severe itchiness.
She said the child first complained last week, and although she took extra precaution to try to protect her daughter, the problem only got worse.
“From last Friday my daughter complained about itching so I decided to put her in protective clothing until the issue has been sorted. So since last week Friday she was wearing long sleeve shirts and tights under her uniform,” Kim Walcott told Barbados TODAY, as she showed pictures of her daughter, Kimara Griffith, covered in rash.
“However, on Monday she was itching again and Tuesday morning I received a call saying that she was in pain. I took her straight to the doctor who told me that she could not go back to school until the cow itch is totally gone because she has an allergic reaction to it,” Walcott explained.
Another aggrieved mum tried making sense of the entire episode, wondering why the problem continued even after the school was closed last month to allow the authorities time to get rid of the problem.
“We have been made to understand that the Ministry of Education is the point person in communicating with the Ministry of Health and the Fire Department but yet the problem is still existing. They closed the school for a week, yet the matter has still not been resolved and it is going on up to now. Schools have to sometimes close their classroom windows and doors in an attempt to block out the cow itch but you cannot stop cow itch once it is airborne,” Nadia Adams said.
However, Jones strenuously rejected the idea that it was inaction by his ministry that was responsible for today’s closure.
“Cow itch is a very difficult thing to get rid of and it has affected the school for some time now. The cow itch is on private property and every effort is being made to get rid of it. We industrially cleaned the school to make it so that the children can come back in but even on the ground once those pods burst open they can cause problem. It is also sometimes not easy to find people willing to cut down cow itch but we are trying to deal with the problems,” the minister stressed.