Govt warned to repair ‘sick schools’
The Freundel Stuart Administration has been put on notice that it needed to fix the “sick building syndrome” at two of the country’s secondary schools as soon as possible or the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union would pull its estimated 120 members from the classroom.
BSTU President Mary Redman claimed that environmental problems, including mould and structural issues were plaguing Foundation and Harrison College, and the union would not allow its members to operate in unsafe surroundings.
“So you are going to be hearing about us in relation to those two schools in short order because if we do not get the type of response that we need to get to address those environmental concerns, then we are going to have to do what the law allows us to do,” Redman told reporters at a news conference this afternoon.
“People, under Section 104 [of the Safety and Health at Work Act], can remove themselves from unsafe and unhealthy working environments, especially when the employer is seen not to react in a way that will safeguard their well-being.”
Redman said the problems at Harrison College and Foundation were related essentially to maintenance, especially at Foundation, and also the age of the buildings at Harrison College. She said the union had written to the Ministry of Education regarding the challenges at Foundation.
“The shop steward today said that to the best of her knowledge, up to today, only the guard hut at the school has been fixed, but the rooms that we specifically complained about, nothing has been done with those rooms thus far,” she said.
“Harrison College,” Redman continued, “it is a wider area . . . problems with buildings of that age. We are awaiting a comprehensive list that we requested of our shop stewards there in determining exactly how we are moving forward.”
“But we have dealt with issues there before. There were issues of mould, there were issues of bird droppings, rat droppings and so on a few years ago and they had done remedial work; again I say, it is always a problem of follow up and maintenance.”
She said since then staff at Harrison College have reported serious problems with mould at the school.
Meantime, Redman reported that environmental problems which forced the closure of Combermere School for most of last term had been largely rectified to the union’s satisfaction.
As a result, it has given the all-clear for its members to return to the Waterford, St Michael institution from the start of the new school year next month.
Redman said the executive was satisfied after attending a stakeholders’ meeting on August 11 and hearing reports from Sally Edwards, the scientist with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) who conducted an environmental study on the school, and officials from various other Government departments, including Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John.
“Based on all that has been reported to us, our major areas of concern . . . seemed to have been addressed and/or (are) in the process of being addressed,” Redman pointed out. However, she stressed that teachers were told that if any symptoms recurred, they must see their doctors immediately and report to the school’s principal and the union.
Redman made it clear that even though teachers were given the go ahead to return to Waterford, there were still some outstanding matters to be remedied which the union expected would be done in a short time.
“Those issues include the need for removal of unused and expired chemicals,” she said. “Of course, this is not only so of Combermere School. The Ministry has engaged in a process whereby they are having all of these chemicals listed on the various school compounds towards addressing their proper disposal.”
Removal of damaged furniture and old electronic equipment was another outstanding matter to be tackled, she noted, along with the removal of diesel and disused batteries.
“The recommendation from all the agencies really, especially PAHO, was that these items be removed as soon as possible,” Redman said.
She acknowledged that being Government property, these items could not be disposed of just like that. However, she assured that the process for doing so was being implemented.
Combermere was forced by the closure to hold classes most of last term at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic. (EJ)