Disgruntled parents gathered yesterday morning at the Point Fortin East Secondary School compound demanding answers over the sudden closure of the school.
Secretary of the Parent Teacher Association, Robertha St Hillaire, told the Express that work was being done on the school building for days prior to its closure. However, an e-mail was circulated by the national PTA on Monday afternoon indicating that the building was to be closed and evacuated until further notice.
St Hillaire said parents were left confused and saddened by the school’s closure as it came without warning.
“It is really sad. We are gathering here because we would like some more information, with all the issues being faced by the school our concern at this point is the children. They did not give us a reason, a time frame and explanation or anything. The works being done were stopped, the workers were told to leave. We came this morning and were told by the MTS workers that even they were not allowed on the property,” she said.
“We would just like some more information because this is going to affect the children at this school who are going to sit exams. There are form threes, form fives and sixes. What are they going to do? How are they going to catch up?” she asked.
This comes after classes at the school were shut down in January as a result of infrastructural issues and two prohibition notices issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA).
The Ministry of Education issued a statement in January outlining the $700,000 in repairs it has conducted on the school.
“The Ministry of Education has not ignored calls from parents for infrastructural repairs at the Point Fortin East Secondary School. Records from the Education Facilities Planning and Procurement Division (EFFPD) of the ministry indicate the ministry spent over $700,000 to carry out repairs at the institution during the July/August 2019 Vacation Repairs Programme.”
Despite this, the school remained unsuitable for the 694 pupils housed there. According to St Hillaire, classes at the school were stopped for three weeks to a month prior. She said the school, which is plagued with many infrastructural flaws since 2019, was visited by OSHA on two occasions in the last year.
Each visit required assessments on the school building to be done. However, despite the many problems identified, few were repaired during the December vacation period.
As a result, with the reopening of school in January, teachers walked off the job and parents kept their children away.
Call for more information
St Hillaire said: “OSHA visited twice last year and when the term began this year they visited again and discovered that the issues highlighted before were not dealt with so they issued two prohibition notices in Block C and D. This is where the main washroom facilities were which, of course, would be a problem for the students.
“In addition to this, there was garbage being piled up in the condemned blocks which led to rodent infestations. There were bats in the labs and faulty electrical wiring which led to a small explosion last year. They fixed this but no testing was done to ensure that it works well. Also there are broken ceiling tiles and several other problems.”
“With these issues and now a closure there are children who have labs to complete and SBAs to complete, yet nothing is being done. They are going to fall behind while every other school moves forward. What is going to be done with these students in the short term? We just want some information.”
Dillon, principal in discussion
Speaking to reporters at his constituency office yesterday afternoon, Member of Parliament for Point Fortin, Edmund Dillon, said the repairs conducted on the affected blocks are scheduled to be completed by the end of this week.
“I just came from the school and I met with the principal on the compound to see some of the work being done. According to what the contractor said less than ten minutes ago those blocks should be completed before the end of the week and handed over. We know that OSH had issued a prohibition notice on these blocks so they would have to go again to ensure that the contractor has done what they were supposed to do and give word for the blocks to be reoccupied,” he said.
According to Dillon, following the scheduled completion of these repairs, the electrical issues of the school were brought to light. Issues with a particular cable were identified by the Minister of Education. The cost to repair this cable was estimated to be less than one $1,000,000, an amount that would need the approval of the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education.
As a result, Dillon said the Minister of Education estimated that these repairs could be completed by the end of the week and the school could be reopened by next week.
“I spoke to the minister less than 45 minutes ago. He said to me that they have already gotten the scope of work for the electrical problem from MTS. He said it’s under $1,000,000 so it needs the permanent secretary’s approval. All efforts will be made to rectify that by the end of this week and he said that hopefully the school will reopen on Monday morning,” he said.
Ministry assures of reopening
The Ministry of Education released a statement yesterday afternoon, following concerns from parents that the closure would be temporary and that it would be reopened on Monday of next week.
“Adhering to the ministry’s mandate to ensure safety for all occupants of the school, a recommendation was made for the school to be temporarily closed to facilitate repairs. Infrastructural works at the school are near completion and the ministry is currently working on having the OSHA notices lifted as well as having the electrical repairs completed by Saturday, February 08, 2020 to facilitate reopening by Monday, February 10, 2020. Classes will be suspended from today, Tuesday, February 4, 2020, to Friday, February 7, 2020,” the ministry said.