Nearly 200 students at the Lawrence T Gay Memorial Primary School will be attending classes at new locations as public health officials try to identify the source of “chemical” odors affecting operations there.
Education Minister Kay McConney made the disclosure while revealing that officials from the Environmental Protection Department would be taking their investigations into neighbouring communities, having found no evidence of contamination on the compound.
“They visited the premises last week on more than one occasion. They have checked the facilities; they have checked all the wells; they have checked all the other areas which they believe may be part of the cause of that odor,” said Minister McConney during a tour of the school on Monday.
“We have been informed that to date, they have found nothing on the premises which could be causing the odor and the discomfort to the persons who are here,” she added.
Minister McConney said class four students who are preparing for the Common Entrance examinations, have already been moved from the affected area to another part of the school. She said efforts are underway to facilitate face-to-face learning for dozens of students in class 1, 2, and 3 who have been displaced by the changes.
“We have started the process of speaking with some churches in the area and the churches have expressed an interest in working with us. We now have to work out the logistics and the specifics of how many students can go where, what types of facilities might be available to them, what else we might need to do to boost the plant and make them more comfortable,” McConney explained.
Acting LT Gay principal Patrick Clarke thanked ministry officials for their responsiveness in dealing with the issues.
He said various odors, including that of sewage, gas, and something smelling like nail-polish remover, were affecting them at different times.
“At one point, you were smelling what smells like sewage or the contents of a grease trap. Another time, you were smelling what smells like paint or thinners and what the children would be able to relate to that smells like nail polish and nail polish remover,” Clarke explained.
However, president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Rudy Lovell said there had been no consultation with the lead trade union at the school and chided education officials for excluding them from the process.
“I don’t believe that the ministry is taking the right approach to this exercise. They are taking decisions and they are not including the workers’ representative, which is the Barbados Union of Teachers.
“I am not in a position to comment yay or nay with regard to what was said,” said Lovell.
“This issue has been ongoing for many years and the procedure in the past included the Barbados Union of Teachers in terms of either having dialogue with us or notifying us of what is going to happen,” he added
As recently as 2019, a similar environmental assessment that included air testing, was carried out at the school, which education officials said also yielded no definitive results. At the time, parents and teachers expressed concern about a number of nearby establishments on the eastern side of the property, near Long Gap, St Michael.
McConney said the most recent findings from environmental health officials were only preliminary, and a comprehensive report was expected to follow shortly.
In the meantime, she has asked for all affected stakeholders to be patient.
“As we said, it is the surrounding areas, at least that is what we are being told, and therefore we have to give them time to investigate,” said McConney.
“Just like you, believe me, our ministry wishes that we could identify the source immediately and deal with it immediately and definitively.
“We have to give the experts time to do the investigations they need to and we hope that those solutions and the cause will be identified immediately,” she added.