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Posted: Monday 19 November, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Infestation at Basseterre High School

The western wing of the Basseterre High School. The area that appears to be affected by the infestation in the Chemistry and Physics laboratory.
By: Jenise Ferlance,

    BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - PARENTS and teachers of the Basseterre High School (BHS) are expressing their concerns about an infestation that has allegedly broken out at the institution.


    A concerned parent visited this media house and claimed that there is an infestation at the learning institution, which is believed to be asbestos and that the authorities are ignoring their cries to have the situation dealt with.


    Speaking with a parent under the condition of anonymity, the individual said the situation was raised almost two years ago in the Chemistry and Physics laboratory where the infestation is said to be.


    "This situation arose almost two years ago. We don't know whether it is asbestos or some other form of infestation but teachers and students alike have been affected by it," the person said.


    The concerned parent said some teachers and students have had to visit the doctor, noting that there were complaints of itchy skin, burning eyes and nausea coming from both teachers and students.


    The parent, who is also a member of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at the school, said the situation had gotten so dreadful that the students pursuing Science subjects were unable to complete the practical segment of their examinations, including those fifth form students who were sitting their Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams due to the Chemistry and Physics laboratory being abandoned since November 2011.


    "Because of that [infestation] the Chemistry and Physics students were unable to complete their exams last school term. The Caribbean Examination Council had advised them to get whatever problems solved in order to ensure that those students who would be sitting the exams this time around would be able to do so without any problems. They were advised to get a proper facility."


    The parent said the PTA was made aware of the situation earlier this year when the school's principal brought it to their attention after her attempts to have it rectified by the Ministry of Education was unsuccessful.


    The person claimed that the principal said she was seeking the support of the PTA to have the infestation looked after as soon as possible.


    The parent said that on numerous occasions the PTA tried to contact the Minister of Education, Hon. Nigel Carty, but was unsuccessful in getting an appointment to speak to him about the situation.


    "We would call or go in person from time to time but were unsuccessful each time. All the secretary would tell us is that we would have to schedule a meeting, and, even so, we still could not get a meeting with him," the individual said.


    The individual revealed that about three weeks ago the PTA, along with Pals Plus, - a group at the school comprising teachers and students - came together and drafted a document raising their concerns and outrage at the fact that their outcries were not being taken seriously and sent it to the Ministry of Education but was still fruitless in getting action from them.


    The parent said that Minister Carty was confronted about the situation at a convention that was held by the school on November 11, 2012 and he denied knowing anything about the infestation, but advised them that persons from Trinidad would be visiting the school on Friday (Nov. 16) to assess the situation.


    The individual, using the National ITC Centre as an example, stated that within a day or two of being informed of the outbreak, the persons who used the facility were moved to another location.


    "Why can't they do the same thing at BHS? Must the teachers and students stay there and suffer? These are children and our future; they should not be continuously exposed to this thing, especially since we are not aware of what it is. It could be asbestos, it could be something less harmful or more harmful. The fact is whatever it is, it is harming them," the person said.


    SKNVibes contacted the principal of the BHS on Friday (Nov. 16) who declined to comment on the issue.


    "I prefer not to comment on those situations right now. The matter is under investigation. Some people are supposed to come in shortly to deal with the matter and I prefer not to comment on it," she stated.


    This media house again spoke with the principal this morning at about 10:00 a.m. (Nov. 19), who, for a second time, declined to give any details concerning the situation.


    She said at that time she was about to enter a meeting with her staff and could not comment.


    When asked when she would be able to do so, she responded by saying that she was unaware of what would transpire in the meeting and would not be able to comment if her staff does not want her to, noting "I am guided by what my staff wants".


    Attempts were also made on numerous occasions last week to speak with Hon. Nigel Carty who could not be reached for a comment. Attempts were again made today and, according to his secretary, he was in Cabinet.


    This media house also made attempts today to speak with Chief Education Officer Clarice Cotton and also the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Ionie Liburd-Willett, but was told by the latter that she and Cotton were on their way to a meeting with Minister Carty and she could not comment on the situation.


    This was less than one minute after Carty's secretary said he was in Cabinet.


    The concerned parent had stated that under the current conditions that exist at the school, some teachers were entertaining the thought of deserting the profession which would negatively affect the education system, noting that without teachers the students would be left with no one to educate them.


    Speaking with an individual at the school, the person stated that a strike was in the making but did not "pull off" due to the lack of cooperation by some of the teachers.


    This media house also spoke with a teacher, under the condition of anonymity, who stated their displeasure with the way the situation was being handled.


    The individual said the infestation has reached crisis point as more and more students are being affected by it.


    "This is ridiculous now man. You mean to tell me every time we have assembly over here [western side of the school] the children dropping down! Yes dropping down! And these people in authority not seeing this as a serious thing."


    The teacher said the situation is one that has been plaguing the school for about two years and it has gotten a lot worse. The person said at first the teachers and students complained of itchy skin and nausea, but now they are falling ill to the point of having to go to the JNF hospital due to respiratory problems.


    The teacher, who at the time had donned a face mask and gloves, said that the garb was given to the teachers in an attempt to protect them from the infestation.


    "We cannot use the lab and we had to abandon some of the classes close to it because of this problem and nobody seems to know what is going on or want to do anything about it. We were told by Nigel Carty that some persons from Trinidad would be here on Friday (Nov. 16) to check out the situation, but we were here up until after 5:00 p.m. Friday and nobody came. It's like they just tell us they're going to do something and then forget about it, " the teacher said.


    Clearly irritated, the teacher went on to explain what she understands to be the effects of exposure to asbestos and other similar infestation.


    "This thing is serious! The effects are not always seen right away; sometimes you don't see or feel the effects until years after. These kinds of infestation affect the lymph nodes and lungs."


    "What's going to happen to us in the long run?" the teacher asked.


    The health of the leaders of tomorrow coming out of BHS could be adversely affected due to the presence of and exposure to the infestation within the school complex, which is a major concern for parents and teachers alike.


    Meanwhile, the Teachers Union has stepped up to give their input with regards to the infestation at the school and has made a number of demands which,  according to their press release, should take effect immediately.


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