by Kareem Smith
The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) is calling for the suspension of all face-to-face classes at the Lawrence T Gay Primary School for the remainder of the current term, even as officials from the Ministry of Education attempt to address persistent environmental problems there.
Hot on the heels of four parent protests at the Spooner’s Hill, St. Michael school, a decision was taken to call off classes every day since last Thursday when a foul smell became too much for students and teachers to bear.
While parents are happy that the Ministry of Education has not totally neglected their children, they mounted another protest on Tuesday to address the deafening silence from authorities who have issued no public statement on the issues.
“Why is it that we aren’t hearing anything about Lawrence T Gay? Why is it that we have to wait for teachers to tell us what is happening when the Ministry of Education is the employer of teachers?” asked Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Steffanie Williams.
“I do not believe it should be the responsibility of teachers to inform parents [of school closures]. That should be the responsibility of the ministry,” the upset parent declared.
Authorities have reportedly closed the school to address work on the wells on the compound that have not been cleaned for years.
In response to the latest protest, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw revealed that work at the school would continue over the next seven days as students receive instruction online.
She also announced plans to host a virtual meeting with parents, guardians and teachers on Friday at 5 p.m., and a walk-through of the school that will involve members of the PTA and the BUT on Saturday.
Bradshaw assured the authorities were working “tirelessly” to resolve the environmental issues “for once and for all”.
She said: “As of today, all of the investigative tests have been completed. However, we have had to excavate a few areas at the front of the school where some of the septic tanks are located, but which had been covered by soil.
However, BUT First Vice President Richmark Cave, who is also the Physical Education teacher at LT Gay expressed concern that authorities are once again refusing to investigate factors outside of the school, raised in the findings of an independent environmental report.
He revealed that with teachers and students being sent home with a range of troubling symptoms, the union asked authorities to suspend face-to-face classes for the term, which has three weeks remaining.
“The understanding we got from discussions with the Ministry of Education was that they were going to close the school and have all online teaching for the balance of the term and we supported that,” Cave told Barbados TODAY.
“In the meanwhile, the relevant authorities could have looked for someplace that can house the Class 4 students so they can have continued face-to-face interaction in preparation for the Common Entrance Exam.
“We still support that because they don’t know what is causing the problems,” the teacher added.
Over two dozens students have already been transferred from the urban institution along with at least one class teacher.
Those who remain on the compound are complaining of sore throats, severe skin rashes, swollen eyes, diarrhoea, vomiting, shortness of breath and other ailments.
Independent environmental assessments point to a number of auto-body and auto-mechanic workshops, along with other establishments near to the school as potential contributors to the health issues.
However, only the ministries of health and labour have the authority to investigate the external entities.
“We’ve tried to be respectable to the other entities who are in charge, but this is not good enough,” the PTA president declared on Tuesday.
“If the Prime Minister has to intervene, well so be it. They say Mia cares and we believe she cares about us, but we would like her to show us how much she cares about us…It is foolishness. It is blatant disrespect and something needs to be done,” Williams added.
Union officials expressed hope that the issues would not spill over into the next calendar year.