Determined to get a new school before the next academic year, scores of parents and pupils from Princes Town Presbyterian No 1 & 2 schools staged a placard protest Monday, as they called on Education Minister Anthony Garcia to make good on his promise to rebuild their school.
The school structure at Edward Street has been torn down since last year but because of a dispute between the Ministry and the Presbyterian Primary Schools Board of Education, almost 900 pupils from the two schools are facing severe hardship.
During an interview, yesterday, president of the Presbyterian No 1 Parents Teachers Association Nola Ramjohn-Karim said her school was a top performing institution in the South Eastern zone but since the school was placed on a shift system with Presbyterian No 2, three years ago, standards have fallen.
She also said they were getting confusing information from the Board and the Ministry.
"We are hearing that the land where the old school was built, is very valuable so the Board does not want to put back a school there. We are calling on the Board to meet with us," Ramjohn-Karim said.
She also said that in October 2016 after several rounds of talks with the Ministry, the Board finally granted permission to the Ministry to build the school.
In February, Minister Garcia assured parents that construction will begin. However, Ramjohn-Karim said nothing ever started. The school building was demolished and the compound was padlocked.
"We have been begging the government to hear our pleads and to build the school. Our children are getting half day school. It is not right. Parents have to leave their jobs because they cannot make two trips back and forth to send their children on two shifts. The parents are frustrated. the children cannot bear this anymore," Ramjohn-Karim said.
She added that following the last protest outside the Ministry's offices in Port-of-Spain, representatives from the Board and the Ministry went to Presbyterian No 2 and discussed the erection of a prefabricated building on the lot behind the existing school which will accommodate 10 classes.
However, she said because of the sloping land, this idea was rejected.
She also said that a proposal was made to erect a shed in the quadrangle but this too was rejected. The parents said they will continue their protests this week.
Efforts to contact the chairman of the Presbyterian Primary School Board Anthony Rampersad proved futile as calls to his office and cellular phones went unanswered.
However, Minister Garcia said he had no information from the Board that they no longer wanted a school reconstructed at the old site.
Garcia said the school cannot be rebuilt immediately because the government simply did not have the money to do so.
"As soon as we have funds available to us, we will rebuild the school."
Asked if that will be in the new fiscal year, Garcia said, " I don't want to make promises that I cannot fulfill. As soon as funds are available, whether it is to rebuild or place additional classrooms, we will do so."
He said the Ministry was looking at all possibilities to ensure that students are housed under satisfactory conditions and the shift system comes to an end.
Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Radhica De Silva) Photo by Rishi Ragoonath.