Canteen at Annandale school torn down
-students to be temporarily relocated By Zoisa Fraser
Stabroek News
November 29, 2006

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The canteen at the Annandale Secondary School, which some parents claimed was the source of a mysterious illness that caused seventeen students to be hospitalized last week, was demolished yesterday afternoon following a meeting between members of the school's board and education officials.

Three more students of the school came down with the illness yesterday and had to be rushed to the Georgetown Hospital but were not admitted. One started vomiting in the school and two more collapsed near the Annandale Market.

An announcement was also made yesterday that the students would be temporarily relocated to the Annandale Primary School and another school in Lusignan.

Efforts to get a comment from education officials yesterday were futile.

Around 3 pm yesterday, an excavator brought down the concrete canteen and another adjoining building. The adjoining building, Stabroek News was informed is another canteen but work on it was halted since it was discovered that no permission to build it was granted. The demolition was met with applause and cheers from the approximately 30 persons who had gathered to witness the event.

After the completed canteen was broken down, several workmen packed wood and other material into the back of a bus and drove off. One of the men told this newspaper that the owner, who Stabroek News understands is linked to the school board, was there earlier and removed the goods from the shop.

Meanwhile Beena Sheopersaud, the mother of Samantha Sheopersaud, one of the affected children, told Stabroek News that she feels very relieved that the decision was made to break down the canteen.

"De head teacher and the REdO (Regional Education Officer) don't believe we. The REdO even been laughing at we. De other parents na support this thing. Out of the nineteen parents is me alone out hey to see this thing break down".

The woman stated that her daughter had even called the office of the Minister of Education, Shaik Baksh, UNICEF and Freedom House to air her views on the incident.

Another concerned parent, Baynu Persaud expressed concern over the condition of the shed that the other vendors are selling under.

"If they could demolish such a decent building then they should demolish the shed. That shed is rotten, birds sleep in the tree above the shed and the roof leaks. The vendors are even selling right next to the toilet. That is a health hazard". He doesn't believe that the canteen is the problem but rather it has to do with jealousy. The man explained to Stabroek News that when the canteen was opened food and other items were being sold at a cheaper price there.

Persaud informed this newspaper that the Regional Democratic Officer of Region Four, Doodmattie Singh held a meeting at the Annandale Primary School for parents of the children attending the affected school. He said that he was the only parent who turned up for the meeting.

At the meeting, he said, Singh announced that half of the students will be accommodated there and there will be a shift system. Primary school students will be at the school in the morning and the secondary school students in the afternoon, he said. According to Persaud, Singh said that the other half would be accommodated elsewhere.

Persaud stated that Singh told parents who have children attending the primary school to sign their names on a sheet of paper. After everyone had written their names, he said, she told the parents that the list would be used to assist the relocation.

"I think that there is a lack of communication between parents and the education people. Singh is never available to speak to John public. I believe that it is because of this that parents send their children to private schools".

Last Friday two more girls were rushed to the Georgetown Hospital suffering from the mysterious illness but were not admitted and another female student took in over the weekend but her mother decided not to take her to the hospital since she felt that doctors there could do nothing for her child.

Last Wednesday afternoon eight students were admitted to the hospital after they started complaining of feeling unwell. They told relatives that they had consumed soft drinks that they had bought from the vendor at the school.

Eleven more were rushed to the hospital, one and a half hours after school started last Thursday when they began feeling unwell. Eight of the students said that they began smelling something sweet and shortly after were overcome by numbness.

Stabroek News was informed that all the students had bought items including bottles of soda while at the school. Some had purchased snacks at a school canteen that had only opened that Monday.

When the first batch arrived last Wednesday doctors treated them as food poisoning cases and samples of their blood were taken for testing.

But when the second set arrived, doctors were baffled, as they could find nothing wrong with the students. Blood samples were also taken from them.

Things took a turn for the worse last Thursday when several students began behaving in a strange manner. One was bouncing up and down on her bed and another was writing strange things on pieces of paper. A female student who was discharged was walking down the hospital stairs when she just collapsed. She had to be rushed back upstairs and placed on a bed. All the students were discharged that night.

Several relatives of students from the Annandale Secondary School on Monday protested in front of the Regional Education Office (REO), Region Four in Triumph over the canteen, calling for it to be demolished.