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Several schools across the country remained closed yesterday but there was a dispute between the Ministry of Education and the teacher’s union as to the number. Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh identified four schools, including Malick Secondary School, which will re-open on January 13, St Dominic’s (Savio) RC, Barataria Boys’ RC, scheduled to be opened this morning and tomorrow and Lower Cumuto Government Primary, for which no date has been given for re-opening. However, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) disputed the ministry’s claim, saying the figure is much higher. TTUTA’s president Devanand Sinanan said the ministry did not do what it was supposed to do during the Christmas vacation, hence the reason for the continuing closure of so many schools.
The situation has extended the vacation time for hundreds of students across Trinidad and even in Tobago where all infants and Standard One students were told to stay at home for another week. This is to facilitate a primary curriculum training session for primary teachers and principals. In a release, the ministry stated: “The re-opening of schools for the second term of the academic year 2013-2014 has been a success, as 99.7 per cent of schools opened their doors to receive the nation’s children.” The ministry attributed that to “the hard work of school supervisors, ministry officials, principals and members of the Education Facility Company Limited (EFCL).”
The ministry, through EFCL, is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of 476 Government and Government-Assisted Primary Schools, 134 Government and Government Assisted Secondary Schools and 193 Early Childhood Centre for Education Centres in Trinidad. The ministry said it was committed to ensure the comfort and safety of all students, teachers and staff and pointed out that minor school repairs and maintenance would continue to be carried out after school hours and during the weekend to avoid disruption of classes
Open under sub-standard conditions
Sinanan, on the other hand, called on Gopeesingh to demonstrate his commitment by doing what was needed to be done. He identified a list of schools which remained closed and others which opened its doors but continued to operate under sub-standard conditions. Sinanan said while students and teachers reported for school, in one instance at Princes Town East Secondary, the entrance to the compound was blocked because of unfinished work being undertaken by the contractor. The school population had to wend their way to the school. The union’s first vice president Lynsley Doodhai added that after making their way to the school building, students and teachers discovered the air-condition unit was not functioning. Doodhai said each classroom, which has as many as 37 students, is built in such a way that it could only be occupied if the air-conditioning was working. He said school was not dismissed but the teachers retired to the staffroom where there was a functioning unit.
He said TTUTA members have also informed the union there was a presence of mould in the building and the union would soon be writing to the ministry on that issue. Similarly, he said, while students and teachers reported for school at the North Manzanilla Primary, classes had to be suspended because of problems with the infrastructure. He added that classes were also affected at Lower Cumuto Government Primary, which was scheduled for occupation on Monday. He said union members had already packed up their belongings last term to move into the new building but met locked doors on the first day of the term. The ministry said every effort was made to accommodate students and teachers of the Lower Cumuto but heavy rains over the weekend inundated the sewer system, forcing the early dismissal of classes. Doodhai also pointed to the closure of St Dominic’s (Savio) RC and Malick Secondary but the ministry’s statement said St Dominic’s is scheduled to be opened this morning.
With respect to Malick Secondary, where dry-ice blasting was still being undertaken by Century 21 to get rid of mould from three of five classrooms, students would have to spend another week at home. The ministry assured the school was scheduled to be re-opened on January 13 to facilitate major works being undertaken by EFCL. Doodhai pointed out that school was also dismissed shortly after the commencement of classes at the St Mary’s Government Primary, due to an ongoing sewer problem from the term before. “Nothing was done over the vacation.”