Augier School impasse resolved

Things could finally be looking up for students of Augier Combined.

Students of the Augier Primary School on Tuesday made a transition to a temporary school location, Campus B in Vieux Fort, putting an end to an impasse between the school and the Ministry of Education. This temporary solution, which is expected to run until the end of the school term in July, is expected to resolve an outstanding problem. The students however, should be returning to their old school for the new school term in September. That is, as long as the authorities, namely the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Planning stick to their promise of relocating a number of farms near the school, which has been the source of the problem.
For more than two weeks prior to the temporary solution, parents of students attending the Augier Combined school kept their children at home as a form of protest. This action was a result of what many described as the Education Ministry’s total disregard for their children and the Government’s inability to solve an old problem.  The problems facing the school and its students have existed for more than five years and involve the stench emanating from nearby farms. According to the PTA, which has been leading the protest, as a result of some of the farms in close proximity to the school, there is a high prevalence of flies invading the classrooms regularly.
In the absence of any scientific analysis and research, some of the parents, acting merely on a hunch say that the farms and existing conditions could be adversely affecting the health of their children. Still, others point to a few outbreaks of illnesses over the years, involving nausea which they say is linked directly to the farms. The farmers of one particular farm mainly involved in poultry, made up of three siblings on the other hand, have argued that there has been no evidence to prove that they are the ones causing the problem. Some say they are unjustly being targeted, while another nearby pig farm does not appear to concern the parents.   However, at least two of the farmers had agreed to a Government’s proposal to have them relocated, but another was reportedly contemplating challenging the move. It has been suggested to the STAR that the whole situation may be more than meets the eye, and involves a family squabble over the legal rights to a farm handed down by the patriarch of that family. But whatever it is, at the end of the day, the school has seen a number of students come and go, some having been transferred, others accomplishing their primary schooling, but still caught up and affected one way or another by the problem.
Following a major meeting with authorities last October, in April of this year the PTA addressed their concerns to the Minister of Education Arsene James, Dr Rufina Frederick Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Marcus Edward, Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education. In the letter, it was stated that it was their intention to take action “due to your failure and lack of will to implement the policies and resolutions taken during the meeting held October 13, 2010.” The PTA then allowed the relevant ministries five working days to resolve the issues pending some form of action. The Ministry remained silent on the matter, without even the courtesy of a written or verbal response to the PTA or the Augier Primary School’s principal.
True to their word, the PTA met and decided their first line of action would be to keep their students home from Monday May 23 to Friday May 27. Still no one at the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Agriculture budged. There was not even a query by the Ministry of Education as to what was going on at the school. The following Monday, May 30 parents of the students took to the streets in the area near the school this time bearing placards and bringing public attention to their concerns. Still another week went by without a word, until last week when the PTA was afforded a meeting with Ministry officials.
On Tuesday June 7, a large group of parents and teachers of the Augier Primary School met with the Chief Education Officer, Marcus Edwards, Hubert Emmanuel, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and officials from the Ministry of Planning. Irate parents first aired their grievances over the long delay in resolving the matter which they say was affecting their children’s education. At first the PS in Agriculture sought to ask them to bare patience and allow six to seven weeks to relocate the farms. Parents who had been made several promises before were not willing to wait any loner and wanted an immediate solution. The Chief Education Officer Marcus Edward then put to the parents two options. “We can find a school in the vicinity that we can put on a shift system that allows the school to operate on one shift and allow the Augier children to come in on another shift, that’s one option,” Edward put forth. “The second option is to investigate the extent to which the students of the Augier combined school can be accommodated at Campus B (Vieux Fort). All the Form fives are out of school so we can consider whether the form five block at Campus B can be made available to the Augier Combined School.”    These were the two options the CEO in Education said he was contemplating but allowed parents and teachers to put forward any others they had in mind. After much discussion and deliberation, most parents seemed to be in agreement with the latter option of moving to Campus B temporarily.
The PS in Agriculture has assured parents that the relocation of farms would take up to seven weeks and that the students should be able to return to their school in September (the new school term) under better conditions.       “We have sent the proposal to Cabinet and we are now happy to report that a lease has been signed between NDC and the farmers and all farmers will be relocated,” Emmanuel said. A cabinet conclusion the STAR has since learnt has approved the financing of the relocation of the farmers and has also recommended that the Ministry of health do more regular monitoring of all farms in the area.
Following Tuesday’s meeting the executive of the PTA last Thursday met with a delegation of Ministry of Education officials headed by Marcus Edward for a site visit of Campus B. Jason Mondesir of the PTA later told the STAR that they are satisfied that the temporary relocation will work.
“The plan is for us to move over to Campus B utilizing 12 classrooms from the new wing and an additional four from the existing structure,” Mondesir says. “Additionally we will be given separate toilet facilities, since that was a concern of teachers, the primary students having to share facilities with the older students of Campus B,” he went on to inform us.                 The students will also have access to the school’s home economics room to facilitate their school feeding program and the Government has also agreed to subsidize transportation for those children living in the Augier area who would have ordinarily walked to school.                 Asked whether the PTA was satisfied, Jason Mondesir responded in the affirmative:         “At the end of the day we have always wanted what is best for our children and it really bothered us that it had to take all of this action for the Ministry to sit and talk with us. We will monitor the situation and we are
looking forward to our children going back to school in September in an environment free from flies and bad odours,” he expressed.

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