In the wake of recent environmental problems that have plagued several schools in the past few weeks, causing students and teachers to lose valuable teaching time, the head of the island’s largest teachers’ trade union is calling on Government to pay greater attention to maintaining its assets.
Speaking at a reception at the Barbados Union of Teachers’ Merryhill headquarters over the weekend, BUT President Sean Spencer stated that “Educators are often confronted with physical and environmental conditions that must be addressed by systematic special checks and proper maintenance procedures.”
Citing the example of the Lester Vaughan Secondary School, he said, “Following a report from the Environmental Protection Department in 2011, we saw a paralysis of implementation and an absence of inspection and monitoring. We expect the relevant authorities will respond to this matter and do what is necessary so that this does not become a horrifying sequel to the Louis Lynch case.”
The newly elected BUT President was referring to the Louis Lynch Secondary School, which was closed in 2006 owing to longstanding environmental problems. Coincidentally, the first cohort of students at the Lester Vaughan School, when it opened in 1999, came from the St. Leonard’s Girls Secondary School, which closed in the mid-1990s because of a similar situation.
In outlining his concerns, Spencer said, “the absence of a codified system in the shape of an inspection and maintenance schedule for government buildings and its vehicular fleet, has led to debilitating shortages of garbage trucks and Transport Board buses. In addition, sick public buildings place an additional burden on the National Insurance Scheme in terms of sick leave payments.”
On a more positive note, Spencer said teachers played a multiplicity of roles in the community, hence the need to ensure they enjoyed ideal working conditions. “Historically, teachers have voluntarily served as parents, counsellors, advocates, motivators, doctors, coaches, coordinators, mentors, dispensers, lawyers, chauffeurs, medics and even oracles. We even take things from home and bring them into work to ensure our students are properly looked after. We maintain that the union will not be diverted, distracted or derailed in its efforts to represent its members, and a healthy and safe work environment for teachers is equally a healthy and safe environment for our children.”
During the reception, seven now retired teachers received special commendations for their contribution to the profession over the years. They were June Graham, Reba Harewood, Anthony Jordan, Deborah Lovell, Beverley Parris who was off island, Charles Payne and William Stuart.