Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh has launched a probe into reports that some principals kept their schools closed yesterday without getting permission from ministerial supervisors. His comments came as the T&T Unified Teachers Association reported that 19 schools remained closed because the ministry refurbished only 77 out of 210 during the August holidays. In South five schools were closed because of infrastructural problems. Among those were South Oropouche RC School and St Gabriel’s RC, which was closed because of a pigeon infestation; Palo Seco Secondary closed because of an airborne fungus; Cowen Hamilton, closed because of protests; and St John’s Anglican Primary and Macaulay Government Primary because of poor conditions.
In a brief interview yesterday, Gopeesingh said he had initiated an investigation to determine why the schools were closed and why infrastructural work was not completed. Gopeesingh and a ministry team will tour schools today. He also said it was brought to the ministry’s attention that some principals had taken a unilateral decision to keep schools closed. He added: “This is unacceptable. The permanent secretary is calling a meeting of all supervisors and principals to discuss this matter.” He said it was improper to close a school without first seeking the permission of the school supervisor. "No one informed the ministry related to this matters and the permanent secretary and the chief education officer are looking into the matter,” he added.
Asked whether disciplinary action would be taken, Gopeesingh said that was up to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC). He said the Public Service Commission would determine whether the matter would be referred to the TSC.
However, first vice president of the T&T Unified Teachers Association Dev Sinanan said principals did not have to ask permission. “The principal can exercise discretion in terms of determining whether the school is safe or not. If there is evidence, the principal can inform the supervisor but does not have to get permission,” Sinanan added. He said the minister had no authority to initiate disciplinary action on any principal or teacher. “That is the role of the Teaching Service Commission and there are procedures that need to be followed before any disciplinary action is taken,” Sinanan said, adding that TTUTA was saddened by the number of schools which were closed. “The minister is trying to downplay the issue. Statistics are coming in fast and so far 19 schools have not been opened because of major infrastructural challenges,” he said. He said only 77 out of 210 schools were dealt with, adding, “The ministry did a lot of work but a lot more needed to be done. Because of the magnitude of work, the minister should have put systems in place to ensure the work was done in a proper timeframe.” President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) Zena Ramatali said she had been bombarded with phone calls from parents and teachers about school closure. Ramatali said she was “unhappy and disappointed” over the calls. “This is disrupting the education of our children and I don’t have answers for the people calling me except that the Ministry of Education, who is responsible, should be the one to tell us what is going on,” she added.
Ramatali said there were complaints at St John’s Anglican Primary of rotted floorboards, dislodged electrical fixtures, leaks and numerous out-of-order toilets. She said there were also complaints of leaking toilets at Macaulay Government Primary. At San Fernando Boys’ RC, students had to either return home or stay at school without instructions because classrooms were closed. James Leung, a parent, said the school’s electrical system was not up to par. He said: “I am very concerned, since my son is starting Standard Four and it is a critical period in his education. Having to miss a day and not knowing when classes will start is very frustrating. I am worried how this will set him back in his timetable.” Teachers and students were also absent from Palo Seco Secondary, where fungus infestation and sewage problems persist. President of the Palo Seco PTA chapter Raphael Samuel said the school’s principal and ministry officials toured the school yesterday. He said it would remain closed until an official report was completed by the ministry. Samuel said there was a location in the area large enough to house the school’s 400 students temporarily and called on the ministry to “get its act together.” Christy Parmase, a parent at the South Oropouche RC, said she was disappointed. “Parents have to take their children back home and it is an inconvenience. The ministry had two months to fix the problems, so it is unacceptable for the school to remain closed,” Parmase added.