Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw says her ministry does not know why the majority of teachers at the Milton Lynch Primary School called in sick today for the second straight day, forcing the closure of the school.
As happened on Tuesday, parents were called in to pick up their charges after all but three teachers failed to show for work.
Some people have suggested that the educators are on a sickout, having long complained of environmental issues related to the physical infrastructure and facilities at the Christ Church school. When contacted today, president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), Sean Spencer, would only state “I am no medical physician and I won’t delve into the precincts of speculation with respect to illness. Teachers are not machines and even machines suffer from fatigue, and wear and tear.”
However, this afternoon the Minister of Education told Barbados TODAY that the Ministry of Education has received no formal explanation from the teachers or their bargaining unit, about the reasons so many teachers called in sick over the last two days.
“My understanding is that on Tuesday the members of staff would have informed the principal that they were not feeling well, and that they would be unable to come to work. This is now the second day that the teachers would not have been at work and up until this point we would not have had any communication, either through the principal or the BUT, as to the reason for them being unwell.
“I don’t know if it is coincidence. I don’t know if it is deliberate. I really can’t say because I have received no indications from the unions in relation to any issues that have arisen at the school,” she said, while begging the indulgence of the parents and students inconvenienced as a result.
Yesterday, Spencer said that the buildings were in desperate need of maintenance. He charged that the school was infested with termites and rodents and this is compounded by poor toilet facilities and ventilation issues. In addition to the problems on the inside, a vacant field with cow-itch vines is impacting students and teachers.
This afternoon Minister Bradshaw told Barbados TODAY that she met with the BUT as recently as last month, but none of these issues was raised then.
“What I can tell you is that back in January I would have met with Mr Spencer, President of the BUT, and the issue of the Milton Lynch School was raised in relation to some roofing issues we had done earlier in the year. No other environmental issues had been raised at that time nor any other concerns in relation to that specific school. So, the ministry has not been alerted formally as it relates to any outstanding issues,” said Bradshaw.
She further explained that in this financial year, which ends on March 31, the Ministry of Education had spent over $50,000 in relation to various works at the school. Those monies were spent on issues such as termite control, industrial cleaning and roof repair. She contended that the eight-month-old administration is doing its best to grapple with the needs of school plants across the system, which have not been maintained for years.
“The ministry appreciates and understands that teachers are working under difficult circumstances and children are going to school in plants that are not necessarily in the best condition, but I want the public to understand that we are aware of the issues and we are doing our best to address those matters in a systematic way,” Bradshaw stressed.
In the meantime, the minister revealed that the school’s principal, Everton Briggs, has alerted the Ministry of Education of the cow-itch issue and that matter has been deferred to the Ministry of Health and a solution is being worked on. Additionally, construction on water tanks at the school has been restricted to weekend work only, as the machinery used to cut steel was also identified by the principal as a problem. [email protected].bb