Agitation by teachers at the Elliott Belgrave Primary School has forced officials from the Ministry of Education to order an industrial cleaning in response to persistent complaints about a build up of mould at the facility.
When Barbados TODAY visited the Boscobelle, St Peter institution, the usual sound of children playing at lunchtime was replaced by that of birds chirping and trees rustling in the wind. The school was empty after the termination of classes at approximately 11:30 a.m.
In the administrative office, Principal Norma Worrell and officials from the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) were locked in what appeared to be a heated discussion.
Barbados TODAY understands that the 127-year-old stone school building has been affected by small accumulations of mould from time to time, when moisture seeps inside. On this occasion, the seepage reached a cupboard in one classroom. Efforts were reportedly made to have the area cleaned on Monday, but unsatisfied teachers refused to enter the classrooms and in fact reportedly stayed away from work on Wednesday.
On Thursday, they showed up, but again refused to enter the building, leaving the Principal, Information Technology teacher, senior teacher and a Ministry of Education official to pick up the slack.
The teachers’ persistence reportedly left some parents of the school’s 98 pupils demanding answers about why their children were being denied access to education.
While Principal Worrell declined to comment on the issues, Vice President of the BUT Richmark Cave told Barbados TODAY that the challenges with mould and “rotting cupboards” had resulted in the illness of at least one teacher.
“We were here in 2017 when teachers raised concern about it. I don’t know the extent of the students’ or the teachers’ illnesses, but I can tell you that one is on sick leave and over the past two days, there were a number of others who were at home sick,” said Cave, who praised the Ministry of Education for cooperating with the demands of teachers.
“All I can tell you is that I saw what appears to be mould but I cannot say definitively that it is mould, but I saw it in a number of areas… The ministry has agreed to send in the relevant agencies to clean and we will allow the process to take place and will follow up after they have given back over the school.”
Given the prevalence of referred ‘sick’ buildings in the public service, the BUT vice president promised to continue monitoring the issues at various schools.
“We had a near ten-hour meeting with the Ministry of Education. The Minister and the Prime Minister were there. They are aware of the concerns, and I feel satisfied after that meeting that there are about to address the concerns in the coming summer programme. Not all will be done, but they have given us the assurance that the most serious ones will be looked after,” said Cave.
Meanwhile, Henry Gittens, General Secretary of the BUT urged teachers to continue to take matters of health and safety seriously.
“The union will continue to take health and safety issues very seriously and we want to advise teachers that where you have concerns, at all times, you need to keep the union informed of issues so that we can represent your issues with the Ministry of Education,” he said.