Ministry continues to snub Augier School!

The Augier Combined School still facing major problems. But is anyone listening?

It has been five days now, and the students of the Augier Primary School in Vieux Fort are still out of school. However, during this period, the principal, teachers and other ancillary staff of the school have been reporting for work, only to sit in empty classes, save for grade six students preparing for CSEC. During this period too, there has been no visit from any Ministry of Education official seeking an explanation about the students, students who fall under the purview of the Ministry of Education. And, this absence, apparent lack of concern and silent treatment, is what is infuriating members of the PTA of the school and exacerbating an eight year old problem even further. In fact, it was what members have described as “total disregard for the students of the south,” which started the protest action this week, resulting in students staying home.
Still, while callers to Tim’s RCI NewsSpin program on Thursday pontificated and opined on the way forward for the island’s education system –there was no outrage that several of our nation’s children were being denied the proper conditions under which effective learning should take place.                 There was no outrage that on a daily basis some had to face flies and foul odours as part of their daily learning process. Little wonder then, that Government has failed to act decisively, little wonder then that education does not seem a hot election topic, since for the citizenry the maypwis, mauvais lang and political squabbles takes precedence over our nation’s youth and the gross injustices meted out to some of our students on a daily basis.
On Wednesday the STAR visited the Augier School, to be greeted by empty classrooms and an abundance of flies which has been the norm and source of concern for parents, teachers and students for years now. Concerns Jason Mondesir a Floor Rep of the PTA said were supposed to have been addressed since October of last year, when they last met with education and Government officials.                 The final straw they say came following a letter dated May 12, 2011 from the PTA which has since been unanswered. That letter which the STAR obtained a copy of, was addressed to Arsene James, Minister of Education, Rufina Frederick, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Marcus Edward Chief Education Officer in the Ministry of Education. The letter was headed “Relocation of Chicken Farms Near School.”         It read; “This letter serves as a formal notice of our intent 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. We the PTA believe that the relevant ministries have shown total disregard for the concerns of parents and the wellbeing of the students. We make reference to the letter dated April 13 2011. We therefore have decided on the following; 1. To give relevant ministries a period of five working days to resolve issues: results should be visible and tangible. 2. If our request is not satisfied we have pledged to take action until the matter is resolved. See attached petition. We look forward to a speedy response.” The letter was signed by the president of the Augier Combined PTA Thompson St Louis.
In March 2011, a STAR newspaper article chronicled the issues surrounding the foul stench at the school and the flies which were alleged to be coming from the nearby farms, mainly poultry farms. In the said article, we highlighted that back in 2007 after years of complaining about foul odours emanating from the farms, teachers and students of the Augier Primary School decided to stay home during the month of November as a form of protest. Ministry of Education officials back then simply fumigated the school, pending an investigation as to the source of the unbearable smell and fly infestation.                 However the residual effect of the fumigating was an intolerable odour from the chemicals which caused an allergic reaction to students and teachers, resulting in five persons being hospitalized. It October of 2008, the problem came up again as teachers and parents claimed they could no longer cope with the smell and fly infestation. Health Minister Keith Mondesir weighed in, telling reporters that the owners of the nearby farm had been given measures they had to adhere to, in order to alleviate the problem and a fourteen day time-frame was given to them in which to comply.
In 2009 the problem still existed. This time around, a growing number of students and teachers claimed to be falling sick at the Augier Primary school from respiratory problems, fever and allergic reactions.
Still another year went by and in October 2010, for the very first time, the PTA held a meeting with Ministry of Education officials including PS Rufina Frederick, Gaspard Charlemagne then Minister in the Ministry of Education and Culture, the PS in Agriculture, and a Ministry of Health official. This meeting came about following protest action by parents and students after an overwhelming invasion of flies at the school. At that meeting, irate parents expressed their concerns which were at first reportedly met with unpleasantries by the PS in Education, who later promised to have something done in a two week time frame.
2010 ended, a new term began in January 2011, a third in April, and no solution has been offered as far as the nearby farms which are affecting the quality of air—not to mention attracting the flies that invade the school each day.
Now, the PTA says they are fed up, first with the promises given last year and in previous years and now the complete silent treatment from Ministry officials. It would seem that the urgency they have placed on the problem at the school is not in congruence with the Ministry of Education which to date has not seen it fit to address the Principal, the teachers, the parents or the students on the matter and how they plan to deal with it, once and for all. What’s more, behind closed doors the blame game is the order of the day with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and now NDC all caught up in this quagmire.
What the STAR did not know back when we first published our story on the school was that the lands where both the school and the farms are located are owned by the National Development Corporation (NDC) a statutory body which falls under Government. So why then the reluctance to relocate the farmers, if the farms are affecting the health of students and teachers, especially since according to another of our previous stories one of the farmers, Julie Williams has agreed to move? Another brother who had originally agreed to move, a source tells us, has since changed his mind. Still, we wondered why the refusal by NDC to act decisively on the matter, especially after the PTA were told by Hubert Emmanuel PS in the Ministry of Agriculture that lands to relocate the farmers had already been identified by Government? And why is the Government offering concessions to farms which are reportedly affecting the children’s education and health? These same questions and others were thrown out by two members of the PTA, Jason Mondesir and Cletus Francois when we sat down to talk Wednesday on the school compound.
About the recent actions Jason Mondesir had this to say: “We took the action because we had written to the Ministry of Education on several occasions. We actually paid them a visit and we got no response. What really made it feel bad was that we invited them to a meeting but never got a call to confirm or to say that they could not attend.”
According to Mondesir on April 13, 2011, members of the PTA travelled from Vieux Fort to Castries and hand delivered letters to officials of the Ministry of Education, NDC, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and the Prime Minister’s office.
“Since that time we have received no response from any of the persons we gave those letters to. So we felt that it was rather disrespectful of them. We felt like our children are not important to the Ministry of Education so we decided to keep them away from the school,” Mondesir explained. “We do not know what is happening with the farm and the air quality so that is really what caused us to withdraw our children from school,” Cletus Francois added.
How long does the PTA intend on keeping up its protest action?
“Another meeting was held on Thursday and we still have not heard anything from the Ministry of Education so we will keep this up until we hear something concrete,” Mondesir says. “We were really hoping that by this week we would have heard something, but so far we have received no response, not in writing, not a letter, nothing. Not even the principal has received a telephone call from the Ministry to find out what is going on,” Francois laments. “But the flies still here. At lunch time they are even more of a nuisance to the kids who have to cover up their lunches. Even during our meetings here we have to be careful when we are speaking that flies do not enter our mouths. So you can imagine the kids trying to concentrate on their studies and all the time having to brush flies away,” Francois adds.
The next course of action the PTA says following a meeting Thursday with parents, is to continue garnering the support of parents and the wider community, to keep their children away until the problems are resolved and to step up their protest action next week. However, grade six students doing CSEC will be encouraged to attend school to complete the syllabus in time for exams.                 The Teachers Union meanwhile is said to be having discussions with the teachers who they say are also affected by the problems facing the school.
“We really felt that in October we would have had this matter resolved when we had officials here promising us that at least in two weeks the first farm would have been relocated. We have a letter from the PS in Agriculture to that effect and since then not a word,” a disappointed Mondesir said.
Indeed the Ministry of Education seemed on autopilot all of last week when the STAR attempted to reach an official for comment.  Education Minister Arsene James and his PS we were told were out of state. However we spoke to the Minister of Agriculture Thursday morning outside of his office about the situation with regards to the farmers.                 “At first, the farmers had agreed to move but now we are hearing that they do not want to move,” Ezekiel Joseph said. Asked what the plan was now the minister replied: “We have not reached that stage yet, we have not had any discussion on that.” One of the farmers the STAR has learnt has placed an injunction on Government’s attempt to have him mov

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