On Thursday this week, Corinth Secondary School students sat under trees, some under a huge tent in the school grounds, busily engaged in idle chatter.
The principal Willard Andrew kept watch from his makeshift office—a small tent, a classroom desk and two chairs—in the school yard. It was the third day of protest action by teachers. That morning they had met with their St Lucia Teachers’ Union (SLTU) representative on the school grounds. Afterward they complained of feeling unwell, signed the school register and left.
“There is termite infestation in the wooden wing of the school and it is extreme,” the principal later told The STAR. “Then we have a situation with mould in some of the classroom ceilings and the external walls. The teachers, parents and students are obviously concerned.”
He added that Initially the authorities asked them to vacate the 27-year-old wooden structure after students and some teachers complained of sickness. “I actually had to transport two students to the polyclinic last month after they complained about itching.”
At a meeting with Ministry of Education officials it was agreed that the school would temporarily adopt a shift system, until the infected wing was made habitable again. It was expected a new wing would be constructed during the summer vacation.
Three weeks later, not much has changed. Some parents have been forced to adjust their schedules in the best interest of the students. As for the teachers, some remain concerned the unattended building continues to be a serious health hazard and should be demolished.
Last Friday representatives of the Education and Infra-structure ministries, SLTU president Julian Monrose, the Corinth principal and scientists from the Caribbean Public Health Agency convened a special meeting, The STAR was told.
“The scientist and the officials listened,” said Andrew. “The teachers’ shop steward and reps were quite vocal and I was very happy for that. We agreed on a number of things. The scientists told us they would have to test the mould to determine whether it was toxic. They asked the ministry to bleach down the place as a temporary measure. They also advised that it might not be wise to demolish the building without first making a determination about what bacteria was there. The school is in a neighbourhood and there is the danger of other people outside the school being affected.”
Andrew added: “We were asked to wait until the end of this week for the test results. On Saturday the ministry brought in a contractor to bleach down the place, but sadly that’s where things took a different turn.”
By Andrew’s account the contractors went through the building, ripping through the ceilings, hosing down walls of the infested structure and bleaching the entire school. But they left behind a pile of possibly contaminated debris. The teachers called in the SLTU.
On Monday afternoon they met with Monrose and finally decided on protest action. Said Andrew: “The Ministry of Education has indicated the building will be demolished at the soonest but there are procedures that must be taken into account.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday this week the teachers called in sick. The law allows for two days sick leave without a doctor’s certificate. On Thursday they reported for work only to complain again about feeling unwell. Meanwhile hundreds of students were left unsupervised. The teachers were again a no-show on Friday. From all reports. neither the teachers nor the union has engaged the ministry of education since the sick-out.
“This has been a cause of worry,” said Andrew. None of the teachers have dialogued with me on this since Monday. I mean, I have no issues with persons taking protest action if they are aggrieved. But I think good sense and some patience as well as the needs of the children should have been the prevailing factors. My own focus is on the children and I will do what I can to ensure they receive some measure of supervision.”
No word yet on whether the students will have normal classes on Monday. However we have been reliably informed that the Ministry of Education through the Chief Education Officer and the permament secretary will be meeting with teachers next week.