The Ministry of Education has agreed to conduct air quality tests at Malick Secondary School, following protest action by parents and pupils, along with their Member of Parliament Donna Cox, outside the Ministry of Education in St Clair yesterday afternoon.
The protest, which took place following a Parent Teachers Association (PTA) meeting at the school—which has been closed for the past five weeks—saw parents plead with Ministry officials to go to the school, which is allegedly infested with mould that is making the children and teachers sick. The parents cried out for the Ministry to conduct the necessary tests to determine what is causing the children to fall ill.
PTA president Onika Buckmire told the Express: “This problem arose since September this year. The principal wrote the Ministry of Education since the third of September indicating that there was suspected mould and from then on I spoke with the principal about the situation, the MP for the area and we have been in constant contact with the principal.
“Children have been hospitalised, but in the first week in October, school was dismissed because the teachers took a decision that they were not going to compromise their safety after a teacher was affected.
“The Ministry said the school is not closed, but under the OSH Act the teachers are not coming out and we cannot send our children here and there is no one to supervise,” she added.
Buckmire explained that last year there was no school at Malick Secondary for a whole term because of a fire that destroyed parts of the building.
“Now it is coming like the same thing, that we will have no school again this term,” she said.
MP Cox told the Express she was standing in solidarity with the parents and children because she was concerned about how the children were being affected with no classes going on at the school.
“I wrote the Minister of Education (Dr Tim Gopeesingh) on it more than once, the last time I wrote him was early this month, informing him about the problem and that they needed to do the test, but they took very long to respond.
“In fact, I have not had a response to my letter. We are still waiting to find out why they are taking so long to send someone to test because it is children who are suffering, the children are out of school for all this time and the parents are upset and rightly so,” said Cox.
“Many of these parents are single parents and they have no one to supervise the children and that is not good at all.”
Camilla Duke, a protesting mother from Morvant whose two sons attend the school, called on Minister Gopeesingh to visit the school so that her boys could get the education they need to make something of themselves.
“I am calling on the Minister to visit the school because I want my boys to be ministers, too. I want them to wear shirt and tie, but they have to go to school,” she said.
Three members of the PTA and Cox were called into a meeting with Ministry officials during the protest to discuss the issue. Following the meeting, Ministry of Education media relations coordinator Yolanda Morales-Carvalho told the Express that the Ministry had agreed to conduct testing at the school today to ensure that the school environment was safe for both the children and the teachers to return.
“Today, Ministry officials and senior officers at the Education Facilities Company Ltd (EFCL) met and held discussions with PTA members concerning allegations of the presence of what parents believe to be fungus. Despite clearance obtained from public health authorities as well as OSHA, the Ministry of Education went ahead and carried out tests to dispute or confirm the presence of the fungus as teachers have removed themselves from the school.
“The Ministry of Education has agreed to further air quality testing that is going to be done tomorrow in the area immediately affected,” she said.
Morales-Carvalho pointed out that the PTA members also raised issues of minor school repairs, but they were informed that minor repairs were the responsibility of the school principal, who has been allotted funds to do those types of repairs.
She added that the Ministry is committed to the growth and development of Malick Secondary School for the betterment of pupils, teachers and parents and has already spent more than $50 million toward improving the infrastructure at the school since 2012.