While many people had begun bracing for more floods since Wednesday’s thunderstorms, parents and education stakeholders were critical of the Ministry of Education’s abrupt school closures on Thursday, saying it came too late. Some parents saw the message early and kept their children away from schools, while others who work or live nearby were able to get their children following the notice of closure.
However, there were difficulties for those who dropped their children off and headed to work. The official media release from the MoE entered media houses’ inboxes at 9.29 am, stating that it ordered schools closed due to the upgraded Riverine Alert. The MoE explained that at 6.55 am, the Meteorological Service (Met Service) issued an updated Riverine Flood Alert, moving from Yellow to Orange.
“As a result, the Ministry of Education has closed all schools in Trinidad. A statement was already issued on the MoE’s social media pages,” the MoE stated.
A check showed that the Ministry of Education also posted a notice of closure to its Facebook page around 8 am. It followed Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s post about the school closure on her personal Facebook page at 7.10 am, saying that it was due to the Met Service upgrading its Adverse Weather Alert yesterday morning.
The Met Service issued the Public Warning Message at 6.55 am, identifying the North Oropouche, South Oropouche, Caroni, Crooks, and Darrel Spring rivers at critical threshold levels following continuous rain overnight. It led to some rivers overspilling.
The MoE said the alert followed flooding in many areas on Wednesday, which affected several schools. It said principals would notify parents when children could return to flood-affected schools following clean-ups. Comments under the MoE’s Facebook post suggested that it should have decided to close schools on Wednesday.
“This is totally unacceptable. Tobago made a decision since yesterday. Why could you all not do the same? Cars and people were being washed away, and you were still unsure about closing schools?” one person replied.
Hannah Khan Roopdial told Guardian Media it was inconvenient to return to the Parvati Girls’ Hindu College in Debe to pick up to daughter due to the time parents received information about the school closure. Roopdial said the ministry should have communicated the closure on Wednesday, as some parents left home early for work. She said her husband dropped off their daughter around 7 am on his way to work.
“I had to leave Gasparillo to come back to Debe. While I did not experience any flooding, it was inconvenient because I am unable to reach work as yet. I am very late for work because I had to leave and come pick her up,” Roopdial said.
Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes condemned the ministry for the last-minute announcement. Haynes, the UNC’s shadow education minister, said it left many students stranded at school. She said the Government was out of touch, as despite the floods affecting several schools, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told citizens, concerned for their family’s safety, that he did not permit the closure of government offices and schools.
“This morning, we have an announcement an hour before classes are scheduled to begin that schools are to remain closed today. By this time, several students were already at school, pushing parents and children into a frenzy,” Haynes said.
She said while some parents could have kept their children home yesterday, many others do not have childcare assistance or cannot take leave of work suddenly to pick up their children.
She said some travel, many leaving home before sunrise. Therefore, an announcement at 7 am showed a disconnect between the officeholders making decisions and those affected.
She repeated her call for a proactive approach regarding school closures in the face of extreme weather concerns.