The ongoing wave of environmental problems affecting schools across the country today struck the Eagle Hall Primary School, leading more than a dozen teachers to call in sick, Barbados TODAY has learned.
The union representing primary school teachers said it did not endorse the sickout but suggested the sickout was linked to persistent dust going back over a decade.
All but eight teachers out of a total 23 reported sick. Reporters were barred from entering the school in Upper Goodland, St Michael but operations at the school seemed to continue as normal.
When contacted, Principal Orlando Jones said he was in no position to comment on the matter, but indicated the problem had been referred to Senior Education Officer Christina Morris. But Morris said she had no knowledge of environmental issues or a sickout at Eagle Hall Primary, referring Barbados TODAY to Chief Education Officer Karen Best.
Best was meeting with her permanent secretary and could not respond to questions, a ministry official told this newspaper.
Barbados Union of Teacher President Sean Spencer said teachers had been trying to have the ministry deal with enduring environmental issues at the school for the last ten to 15 years.
He highlighted excessive levels of dust, which he said has jeopardized the health of students and teachers.
Spencer told Barbados TODAY: “I am aware of a longstanding problem with dust in the area. There was a screen erected to reduce the amount of dust entering the property, but it has been highly ineffective and therefore I believe that staff could easily be affected by those prevailing conditions, especially with the dry season underway there would naturally be an increase in dust in the air.
“Teachers with no particular respiratory ailments would be transferred to the school and become afflicted and then the affliction would go from being acute to becoming chronic, so we’re seeing an escalation of the impact of the problem that has been manifested.”
Spencer said that some measures, including the dust screen, were introduced over the last two years but have proved unsatisfactory.
“The screen isn’t going to do much, because the dust particles are small and it isn’t coming from any one direction.
“The expedience is also highly questionable because the persons who were supposed to have undertaken the work and completed the set task have not done so. Its one thing to actually erect the structure [screened fencing], which in and of itself cannot remedy the situation, but then when there is a dry season, lack of rain and children playing, it stirs up even more dust and that is something that I know for a fact has been on record with the ministry. It’s a problem that has spanned the tenure of numerous principals.”
Spencer gave no indication of when teachers intended to return to the classroom, as the union had not sanctioned industrial action. But he urged Government to address the number of “sick buildings” it owned.
He added: “This is something that is widespread, because Government buildings across the country have been closed down. Economic Affairs had to shut down its office, the Supreme Court is another example, and so this is not isolated strictly to the teaching service or schools, this is a widespread problem. So instead of seeking to put plasters on these sores, it may be best to try to be preventative rather than reactive.
“We need to have better inspection protocols, a maintenance programme and then the resources to staff it properly. I would think that at this time we would be looking to be more expedient to ensure that the social services that are being deployed are put to the good of the wider population and not just restricted to certain corridors of Barbados from time to time.