One day strike at St Winefride’s
Teachers, pupils protest dilapidated building By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
September 4, 2002

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Teachers and students of St Winefride’s Secondary in Newtown, Kitty left their classrooms yesterday to protest the rundown state of the building.

The school which has an enrolment of over 560 children along with 30 teachers has only one solid stairway out of the five required by the building’s design.

Headmistress of St Winefride’s and General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) Avril Crawford yesterday told Stabroek News that the decision was taken to shut down the school for the day to bring to the attention of the Ministry of Education the seriousness of the situation there.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Hydar Ally told Stabroek News that a tender for emergency rehabilitation of the school is currently with the Central Tender Board.

Asked why work was not done during the holidays, Ally said the plans were submitted to the Ministry of Finance but the Education Ministry had to wait on funding.

The work on the school, he said, will include repairs to the roof, flooring and windows.

Crawford said since she was appointed headmistress four years ago she had written several letters to the Georgetown Education Department and the ministry.

She had also spoken to both the Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey and the Permanent Secretary.

The building which formerly housed a primary school with a capacity for 400 children was converted to a secondary school two years ago and was made to accommodate 600 secondary students.

Crawford said the conditions were cramped and when it was converted, the school’s administration had been informed that an extension, to include pre-vocational facilities, would be built. But they were later told that the children would need the yard space.

When Stabroek News visited, students were in the schoolyard as if gathering for assembly. Some of them were quick to point out the state of disrepair.

There are a number of broken or missing windows offering little protection from the elements. Students say the roof leaks and there is flooding in the yard due to poor drainage in the area. Some floorboards are shaky and most of the fence running parallel to Garnett Street is missing, allowing for anyone to access the schoolyard by merely jumping over the drain at the side of the road.

One of the two external stairways exiting the top floor was repaired just one year ago but is now without some of the treaders. The school has now sealed off both exits.

In addition one of the two stairways to the entrances is so shaky that students and teachers say they were fearful of it collapsing at any time.

Because of the shaky stairway, Crawford said that the school cannot carry out fire drills as required and a real fire drill could be disastrous.

She said most of the toilets for both staff and children were not working, and because the pump to take water upstairs was broken the cleaner had to fetch water to the top flat to flush the teachers’ toilets.

Teachers have also complained about sub-standard work that was carried out by the Ministry of Education, including repairs to windows that are already falling out of their hinges because the facings were not replaced.

Colwin King, Vice-President of the GTU Demerara Branch, met the staff of the school and reminded them of their rights and responsibilities. In spite of the conditions, he urged the teachers to attend school but not to put their lives and limbs at risk. He recalled what happened to a teacher at the Golden Grove Primary School who broke a pelvic bone when she fell through a floorboard two years ago. That teacher, he noted, has since been partially disabled but was never properly compensated.