by Bria King
Concerned parents and guardians of students of the Girls High School have accused the Ministry of Education of pussyfooting around a flea infestation that has left several students bitten and others wary of experiencing a similar fate.
“Flea came home inside the bags, jumped off in the house, fleas all on the floor. I was highly annoyed because I have dogs at home and they don’t have fleas. I don’t have fleas in my house on a regular basis, so to have her going to school and bringing back home pests in my house, it was very upsetting to me,” one guardian told SEARCHLIGHT this week, as she expressed her dissatisfaction about her ward being bitten.
Both the Girls High School and St Vincent Grammar School were temporarily located to the decommissioned tarmac at Arnos Vale this school term to facilitate extensive repairs on the original structures at Richmond Hill.
SEARCHLIGHT understands that both institutions have been affected by the fleas in recent times and a source at one of these schools indicated that stray dogs appear to be at the root of the problem.
The source said a stray dog had given birth under the southern end of the Girls’ High School temporary building at the end of December and approximately two weeks later, fourth and fifth form students, along with science and art teachers — who all occupy that end of the school — began complaining of seeing fleas.
It then escalated to students being bitten, which consequently resulted in the entire school population being sent home for a half day last week Friday, January 28.
Students returned to school on Monday, January 31 but were told to remain home the following day for virtual learning, while authorities carried out a fumigation exercise.
They returned to the classroom for face-to-face instruction on Wednesday, but the source said that the flea situation persists, with more students in other parts of the school complaining about being bitten.
And one parent whose child was bitten said she is not confident that the matter is being dealt with efficiently.
“When you do research about fleas and pests, fleas cannot be eradicated in one day or two days. It takes a period of about two weeks to properly eradicate fleas and then to spray the compound in one day, and then send the children a message saying ‘oh the chemicals used are not toxic, it’s safe for our girls’, that made me upset because I don’t think they were really thinking about the health of the students,” she said.
“Gross” is the word another parent used to describe the situation, while noting that the students have already faced numerous disruptions to their education due to COVID-19 and dengue.
Another parent, who also wished to comment anonymously to protect her daughter’s identity, chastised school management for making students return to school on Monday if they were aware that the situation had not been dealt with properly.
She added that no meeting has been held to appropriately inform parents of the situation and how it is being dealt with.
“As a parent, it’s not like you have someone always readily available to just say hold your kids when they say stay home or not stay home. So it’s always an inconvenience and then the children too, they can’t focus,” she said. “How many dogs are there to actually infest a whole school, practically two schools, they are saying? And how come it has reached to this point that nobody ever looked upon it to say this could possibly lead to a problem? I don’t understand.”
The concerned parent cautioned that fleas are no “simple thing” as these bloodsucking, flightless insects can cause serious diseases in humans.
She said “the ministry needs to be up on this thing and stop…pussyfooting…they need to act promptly with these matters and stop exposing our kids”.
Parents are calling on the relevant authorities to take steps to better secure the schools at Arnos Vale so as to prevent stray animals from getting onto the compound and having to send students home for at least a week, while fumigation takes place.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Myccle Burke told SEARCHLIGHT this week that the ministry has contacted the relevant offices; the Ministry of Health and BRAGSA (the Roads Buildings and General Services Authority), which have the expertise to resolve the issues at the compound in Arnos Vale.
“Over the weekend, BRAGSA would commence fencing the area to keep the dogs out because that is a problem. The Ministry of Health can do fumigation as often as it can, but once the dogs continue to breach the compound, then the problem would persist so we contacted BRAGSA and they have given the assurance that they would fence the area in a manner that will prevent the dogs from entering,” he said.
The education official added that the Ministry of Health has also indicated that it will continue to fumigate until the problem is resolved.
Burke also said the fumigation process began last week.
SEARCHLIGHT confirmed with the Public Health Department that they had responded to a complaint from the Ministry of Education about a flea infestation at both the St Vincent Grammar School and the Girls High School.
The Public Health official said a series of treatments was carried out on the expansive area, with the most recent having taken place on Wednesday afternoon after school hours.
Assurance was also given that the Department will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders involved.
Face to face classes continue at both schools at their temporary location.