Union Island School gets attention, finally
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October 12, 2012
Union Island School gets attention, finally

Work to remedy defects at the Union Island Secondary School started on October 9, almost one year after problems with the electricity and plumbing were first reported.{{more}}

A team from the Roads, Buildings and General Services Authority (BRAGSA) visited the school on Tuesday, one day after parents kept their children away from school in protest.

According to a spokesperson for the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the decision was taken to keep the students away on Monday, because the general body felt that the response by the Ministry of Education to the complaints was poor.

The spokesperson told SEARCHLIGHT that the parents were the ones who made the decision to keep their children away from school until the issues highlighted had been addressed.

The issues identified include the female washroom being off limits, having been replaced by a powder room which was to be a temporary fix; the male washroom, though open, has no running water for students to wash their hands or flush the toilets.

This situation had been ongoing for about a year, with the one female washroom having to be used by more than 100 female students.

The other issue of grave concern was with the electrical wiring at the school.

A letter from the president of the PTA, dated September 27 and addressed to the chief education officer (CEO), Lou-Ann Gilchrist, stated that the problem first surfaced following the electrocution of a dog in November 2011.

“And last week, a student almost lost his life after a quantity of electricity went through his body.”

The letter stated that there were faulty outlets and instances where equipment malfunctioned.

A request was made that the male and female washrooms be opened and put in working condition; that an inspection of the school’s electrical system by a certified inspector be done and a report be submitted to the PTA; that a representative from the Ministry of Education be present at the next PTA meeting; and that all electrical hazards in and around the school compound be corrected.

But according to the spokesperson, none of the requests were granted.

“It is only when something bad happens, then they come; they are reactive instead of proactive,” the spokesperson said.

A letter documenting the issues was also sent to the Teachers’ Union and that organisation subsequently issued a statement to the Ministry of Education, making a request for them to look into the situation.

“The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union is kindly requesting that the situation that confronts the safety and health of the teachers and students at the Union Island Secondary School be dealt with the utmost urgency,” the letter signed by SVGTU’s president Oswald Robinson and dated October 3 stated.

A follow up letter was sent to the CEO on October 5 by the president of the PTA, in which he indicated that the parents had taken a decision on October 4 to keep their children at home on Monday, October 8.

The letter said the decision was taken, “based on the fact that none of the above mentioned to our knowledge has been met and the gross disrespect showed by your office towards the PTA by failing to even respond to the correspondence and failing to contact the PTA.”

When SEARCHLIGHT contacted the Ministry of Education, permanent secretary Nicole Bonadie-Baker indicated that the ministry was informed of the electrocution of the dog in late 2011.

She contends that action was immediately taken upon the receipt of that report and that a team, which comprised officials from the Ministry of Transport and Works and BRAGSA, was sent to assess the situation on the ground.

Bonadie-Baker said that officials are currently on the ground addressing the issues. This was confirmed by the PTA spokesperson.

The permanent secretary also acknowledged that she received the correspondence on the planned action to keep the students away from school.

“Consequently, though unfortunate, the Ministry understands the decision taken by parents to keep their children from the classroom,” she said.

“In the absence of a report, I repeat we are not in possession of official reports to date which will allow transmission to teachers, parents and guardians and other stakeholders,” she continued.

Bonadie-Baker said that on Friday, the CEO apprised the principal (ag) of the school of the plans made by BRAGSA to visit the school during the week of October 8 to undertake further assessments and conduct rectification work to address the issues.

She said that this was then passed on to the president of the PTA, on Sunday, October 7, by the chief and a meeting was held on Monday with the staff of the school to inform them of the work to be done by BRAGSA.

A letter sent to Bonadie-Baker from Kenyatta Alleyne, manager of infrastructure at BRAGSA, dated October 4, outlined the status of the building after a team of electricians and plumbers had visited the building on October 3.

The letter indicated that all outlets to the auditorium were disconnected; the team finally gained access to the panel room and hence power has been restored to the upper floor of the staff room; lighting in the powder room has also been restored and the outlets in the corridor that were damaged were temporarily blank plated, until replacements could be procured.

Excavation work to provide for the new earth system has begun and the lights in the auditorium were found to be in good order. The report said that seeing that the lights were not used very often, the accumulation of moisture in the switches resulted in corrosion.

The team was expected to rectify or rewire affected circuits, provide a wooden enclosure for the electrical panel housed in the wall of the staircase to reduce the effects of moisture, complete works on the earth system, install a water tank to facilitate water supply and to work on any other plumbing matters within the scope of BRAGSA’s capacity. (DD)