Controversial canteen smashed
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
November 29, 2006

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THE canteen at the centre of a broiling dispute sparked by students of the Annandale Secondary School mysteriously falling ill was smashed yesterday with authorities hoping it would end the controversy.

Officials took the decision to knock down the new canteen at the East Coast Demerara school after some parents claimed it was the source of the problem because it was built on old graves of Dutchmen.

Education officials are hopeful this move would result in the return of students and the restoration of normalcy to the school where classes have not been held since last Wednesday.

The headmistress told the Guyana Chronicle the Regional Democratic Council of Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) held a meeting yesterday to discuss the matter and a decision was taken in conjunction with the owner of the controversial canteen to demolish the structure.

A contractor was recruited and the concrete building was smashed by yesterday afternoon.

However, like the previous day, classrooms were empty.

The headmistress said there was a sparse turnout in the morning but when one of the students from the original group who complained of feeling unwell last week, made the same complaint again, the small number of students opted to leave.

Asked how the disruption of the school would impact on students preparing to write the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) next year, she said it will have some effect but teachers will be putting in arrangements to deal with this because they are cognisant of the implications.

She assured that teachers will “double up” to compensate for the lost time as the School Based Assessments, an integral part of CSEC, are approaching the deadline for submission to the Caribbean Examinations Council.

Meanwhile, regional officials are scheduled, at 10:00 h today, to meet parents of students to update them on the situation and to reassure them that everything is being done to ensure that the environment of the school is clean and healthy and does not pose a health threat.

The controversy at the school broke out during the latter part of last week when 12 students reportedly became ill, but after being examined at the Georgetown Hospital Corporation (GPHC), doctors concluded that nothing medically was wrong with them.

The school was closed Thursday as the Education Ministry, the Health Ministry and Police mounted a probe into why the students fell ill. Students stayed away Friday and Monday.

On Monday, some parents picketed the Regional Education Office demanding the dismantling of the canteen

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Mr. Phulander Kandhai told this newspaper the ministry was very concerned about the issue and took all possible measures to ensure the students were medically examined.

He said the ministry had expected a full resumption of the school Monday and suggested the mystery illness could be a case of “group hysteria.”

The ministry in a statement last week said it suspended classes Thursday as a precautionary measure and regional officials inspected the building.

It also assured parents and the general public that every effort was being made to ensure that thorough investigations are being done to find the source of the problem and what exactly caused the students to feel unwell.