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The first day of the new school term was off to a bumpy start for students and teachers at the Princes Town West Secondary School. It was marred with protests and a staff walkout. The students and teachers returned to school yesterday, only to realise no remedial works were carried out during the Easter vacation, as previously promised by Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh.
Frustrated members of the school’s Parent Teacher’s Association (PTA), then protested in front of the office of Princes Town MP Nela Khan demanding a meeting with Khan, to assist them with the school’s ongoing problems. Almost simultaneously, the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) led a walkout of teachers at the school, advising their members not to return until the health and safety issues at the school were resolved.
According to PTA president Carol Lutchman, four small jobs were to be completed over the vacation period, including repairs to the technical vocational block and the assembly hall, repairs to block E including the staircase, which is breaking away from the building, and Phase 2 of the electrical upgrade, to secure exposed electrical wires. Lutchman said the association would take the protest to Port-of-Spain today in front of the Ministry of Education’s head office.
“The parents are not going to just sit on this, we will keep fighting for our childrens’ education,” she said. However, Khan, who said she spoke to Gopeesingh on behalf of the parents, told reporters the minister told her the time span was too short to complete the works. “In my conversation with the minister, he indicated the time span was too short, with regards to the Easter holiday, to get the work done,” said Khan. “He has now made an offer to the PTA to have those minor repairs done on evenings and weekends as well.”
TTUTA second vice-president Lynsley Doodhai, in a telephone interview, described the minister’s handling of the matter as “callous and inhumane.” “TTUTA will go so far as to say the ministry’s handling of the matter is callous and inhumane,” said Doodhai. “The ministry has neglected this school and it is apparent that no effort was made at all to rectify the health and safety issues at the school.” “Because of this we have children who have been at home three months now, they are not receiving the education they are entitled to.”
Doodhai added that since January 16 teachers first walked off the compound to highlight the problems at the school “The school has been down for over three months, teachers walked out on January 16,” he said. “There was more than enough time for something to be done, to get the school back on track.”