Objections from union leaders to the re-opening of Lawrence T Gay Primary School appear to have been vindicated.
Hours after re-opening following more than a week without face-to-face classes, a number of teachers and students fell ill, according to First Vice President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Richmark Cave.
Meanwhile, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Steffanie Williams, who led five parent protests to draw attention to the issues, expressed concern about recent suggestions from Prime Minister Mia Mottley that working-class Barbadians should refrain from making a “spectacle” of themselves when attempting to ventilate their issues.
Tuesday started off like any other day for classes until around 1 p.m., when persons on the compound started complaining of smelling gas on two of the school’s blocks.
“One or two people felt dizzy and then on another block, we had students and teachers complaining about the smell of gas and a strong scent. The gas is the one that pervaded the air more,” Cave told Barbados TODAY.
The developments unfolded three days after a walkthrough by Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw, who visited the school to assess work that was done on the septic tanks and grease traps. Despite suggestions from the union and the PTA to close the institution for the remainder of the term, Bradshaw sanctioned four more days of class.
“It is still the BUT’s position that it should have been closed because it doesn’t make any sense to bring them back for four days to close early, even if it is to test the sewage system. If you revamp the entire sewage system, it cannot be revamped in four days,” Cave contended.
“This is not my field of expertise, but based on those wells and my knowledge of the school, I do think you would need more than four days to assess the sewage system.
“Some may argue that it was only a few who were affected on this occasion, but with issues of health, it is a personal thing and I think that one person affected is one too many,” the first vice president further argued.
When contacted, the PTA president said she was “relieved” that the ministries of education and health are finally listening to the cries of teachers, students and parents and addressing them.
Williams noted that comments made by the Prime Minister on Independence Day about recent protests being mounted by working-class Barbadians were somewhat unsettling to the teachers who themselves protested the lack of communication from education officials on the issues affecting their children.
“… Sometimes it is not the loudest voice or the easiest way to make a spectacle that brings honour on to yourself, to the community or to the country,” Mottley said on Monday.
While the comments were perceived primarily as a response to recent ‘wildcat’ workers’ protests in the tourism sector, the PTA president stressed that the upset parents picketed as a last resort, because it was the only remaining avenue to get key government officials to take note of the issues.
“I will be respectful because I am not going to get into a battle with the Prime Minister, but she is looking at things from a different point of view . . . She would obviously view the situation in a much different way because she has a country to run,” Williams told Barbados TODAY.
“I am not going to hold her to that, but some of the parents were really disturbed by the comments because they were impacted on a personal level. It was a last resort; it wasn’t something that we wanted to do,” she added referring to the protests.
“I have been trying to get answers from persons within the ministry who should have been able to let us know what was going on, but that was not happening. It seems like the windows of communication were not open, but we are now happy that things are happening,” she added.