Chaos broke out yesterday afternoon at the St Stanislaus College as irate parents of students of the Brickdam Secondary School objected to the Ministry of Education’s decision to shut down the institution and relocate the students and teachers to different schools around the city.
At the meeting, Chief Education Officer Olato Sam attempted to justify the ministry’s decision to temporarily shut down Brickdam Secondary.
Last Friday, teachers of the school staged a sit-out in protest at the poor conditions at their school, which they say have not been addressed although numerous complaints were lodged with the ministry. Stabroek News understands that a ‘sit-in’ continued on Monday as teachers pleaded to have the situation rectified.
Following this, the ministry made a decision to relocate the teachers and students to different schools around Georgetown as it examines possible long-term solutions for the problem.
However, this decision was not well received by teachers or parents of students as scores of parents objected to the move during the meeting yesterday afternoon.
Shortly before the meeting commenced, Stabroek News spoke with several teachers who accused the ministry of victimising them for their decision to speak out about the state of affairs at the school. Stabroek News had previously reported that among other issues, the school’s building is leaning, its classrooms are small and congested, and there are inadequate washroom facilities for teachers and students.
Yesterday, one teacher explained that they were engaged in a meeting on Monday but the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss the issue at hand but to inform them of the ministry’s decision to reassign them to different schools.
“They told us that they are placing us at different schools and that they are phasing out Brickdam completely. They have also placed us at very low schools and have already given us our letters. They didn’t ask teachers any questions, they didn’t ask parents any questions but they made the decision to reassign us,” one teacher lamented.
“The objective of our actions as teachers was for us to look after the welfare and wellbeing of our students. It’s not for us to say that we are going to be rebels as teachers. That is not our motive. Our motive as teachers is to look out for the welfare of our children but because we stood up for our
rights, they are making us examples,” another one added.
One related how the decision was communicated. “They came before 1(pm) and made the announcement to teachers and told the students that they will all be placed into new schools. There is no longer Brickdam, they have dissolved the history of the school. The best junior secondary school has been dissolved just like that,” a female teacher said.
Meanwhile, when Sam showed up for the meeting yesterday, tensions were already high as parents questioned the fate of the students who attend the school.
In addressing the gathering, Sam said that the state of affairs of the Brickdam Secondary School has been a concern to the Ministry for some time now. He said he had personally engaged a number of entities from the Ministry of Finance all the way down over a three-year period to find a viable solution for both Brickdam Secondary and the Central High School, the latter of which also suffers from similar issues.
“We have made some progress, in fact, they have received some overriding commitment on behalf of the government to actually construct a new state-of-the-art building to house both Central High and Brickdam given that the schools have similar issues,” Sam said.
According to the CEO, to date, the Ministry has managed to successfully engage one entity to acquire the land necessary to construct the new building. He added that while it is an unfolding process, it is the hope that by the end of the year, the land acquisition would be completed and the construction of the institution can commence.
In the meantime, the Ministry has taken the decision to address the issue at hand by moving the teachers and students out of the building they are currently in. Sam said that after the teachers’ first ‘sit-in’ action last Friday, a meeting was held and several proposals were made to the teachers to rectify the situation.
One of the suggestions required the teachers to continue teaching the students until the end of the school term while works are carried out on sections of the building, some of which he said were done over the weekend. After the end of the school term, Sam said, steps would have been taken to find a more permanent solution to the problem.
According to the official, this suggestion was agreed to by those who attended the meeting which included the teachers, representatives of the Guyana Teachers’ Union and representatives of the Ministry of Education.
“The ministry will commit to devising a plan of action that would then provide a more long term solution. We were relating to the teachers that if they allowed us to complete this term, during the next three weeks of this term we would find a replacement building for this institution for the commencement of school in September. I simply asked them to allow us to perform the work we can do on the areas of immediate concern in the building and to complete this term and that we would get them out that building for the new term,” the CEO related.
According to Sam, with this having been agreed to, he was taken by surprise on Monday when he was informed that the teachers had staged another sit-in as they complained that the state of the building posed risks to their lives as well as that of the students.
“I received a call sometime after nine informing me that the teachers refused to work, that they are continuing their sit-in and that they refused to work and will continue to do so unless we remove them from the building immediately,” he said.
As a result of this, the only option left was to devise a plan that would be in the best interests of the students while satisfying the teachers’ demands, he said.
“We investigated a number of other options but given the fact that we had to find an immediate solution as a result of our teachers’ protest, we were only left with assigning our teachers to the various institutions and doing the same for our student body…I will be very clear, we cannot allow teachers to sit-in at the school for the remainder of the term with our students not learning anything, with our students not completing their assessments. It is unacceptable and so our teachers have all been reassigned to various school,” Sam told the parents
“In addition, our students have all been assigned to other schools that are on par with the Brickdam Secondary for the remainder of this term. We have gone to the extent to ensure that their assessments have all been sent to those institutions to allow them the opportunity to complete the term’s work as we attempt to find a more permanent solution to this situation,” he added.
According to the official, during the temporary relocation, the Ministry will monitor the students to ensure that arrangements are made to properly accommodate them and they complete the required end-of-term assessments. He assured parents that the students would not be required to change uniforms since the only thing that would be changing is their location.
He disclosed that the students would be relocated to several schools around Georgetown namely North Georgetown Secondary, Christ Church Secondary, North Ruimveldt Multilateral and Central High School.
However, after hearing the list, the room of parents erupted as several loudly began objecting to having the children relocated to those schools.
“Nonsense! No way!” some chanted, while attempts by Sam to explain that the relocation was only to facilitate the completion of their assessments, were met with louder objections from the parents.
“Once you put your child there, that’s where they gon lef,” one parent shouted even as Sam reiterated that attempts will be made to have a more permanent solution.
“We have no interest in doing away with the Brickdam Secondary, none whatsoever. What we are trying to do is in the interest of the students, we are going to get the work done. That solution I can’t tell you what it is today but we are working on it,” Sam asserted.
“That plan of action was the only viable option at this stage because other things were discussed that really can’t happen. There is no way that we’re going to let teachers have a sit in while our children have nothing to do,” he added.
The tension rose as several teachers addressed the parents claiming that they never agreed to such a proposal.
“The CEO has mentioned that this is a temporary solution, now all the teachers standing in front with me were issued with letters for temporary assignment at other schools. However, we were told that later on we will be issued with letters of appointment to different schools. Teachers were told that there was going to be no more Brickdam,” Stephan Josiah, speaking on behalf of the teachers, related.
In response, Sam said he personally asked the teachers to allow them to find a more permanent solution while they continue to teach at Brickdam for the next three weeks but the offer was declined.
“I asked them would you please work the three weeks as we look to find a more permanent solution for September. Which is why I was astounded that Monday morning when I was told that they had staged another sit-in, they have insisted that their lives are in danger and that the reality of Brickdam Secondary is not too keen because of that fact…Given those options…we had to make the necessary (decision) as to what we had to do in the interest of the school children,” he added.
Sam’s claims were supported by the acting Head Teacher of the school who implored the teachers to be honest about what occurred.
“I pleaded with the teachers to work out the four weeks, I pleaded with the teachers as the Head Teacher acting, to work out the four weeks and they told me blatantly no. Those teachers here who want to be honest, please speak,” she said.
“I did attend a meeting on Monday with Ministry officials. I came back that morning, I was surprised to see all the teachers outside. I implored them to consider the options and they declined…Teachers you need to say now to the parents what you are willing to do, say now what you are willing to do,” she added.
Sam maintained that the Ministry’s decision is final and students will receive letters today for the schools to which they have been assigned.