PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports (Ministry of ECYS) Hon. Rodolphe Samuel said on Sunday that his ministry along with other stakeholders are working diligently to address the challenges at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. primary school.
“Addressing any issues at schools in the country is a priority. The health of management, staff, teachers, and students are of paramount importance at all schools including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. school. On Monday I will be having additional follow-up discussions with the school management.
“The main steps to be taken is to look at alternative housing of classrooms. We need to fix the school the correct way and the right way is a sustainable manner for the long-term. If the roof needs to be removed, it cannot be done with children inside the classrooms,” Minister Samuel said on Sunday.
Minister Samuel was on a seven-day working visit to the Netherlands earlier this month and returned to the country on March 13. The minister during his working visit was briefed about the latest reports about concerns at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) school.
“Upon my return from the Netherlands, on Monday, March 14th I cleared my agenda and visited the school for an urgent meeting with the school management and Department of Public Education (DPE) management. This is something that I do when there are any challenges at a school. While on the premises, it was brought to my attention that there was a broken sewage line, and this was immediately corrected on Monday afternoon.
“I was also told about two (2) classrooms that had recently developed leaks after the tarp sustained damage. In October when a section of the roof was repaired, tarp and roofing tiles were removed, and then the roof was treated with fluid applied reinforced membrane system called Acrylabs. The process proved to be very successful at sealing and preventing leaks.
“On Tuesday March 15th, railings on the main stairs were installed for the first time since the school was constructed more than two decades ago. On Wednesday, March 16th at around 3:00 p.m. as part of a regiment for the control of mold and fungus, a decontamination company was brought in to disinfect the entire school campus against all bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, spores, and any biological toxins.
“Permit me to mention here that the chemical that was used was MDF-500, which is an environmentally friendly, non-toxic disinfectant and is a first line of defense against chemical and biological contamination. Persons are permitted to use the premises eight hours after the treatment has been administered according to usage protocols.
“On Thursday, March 17th, I again went to the school to meet with the management and staff of the school and DPE management. While at the meeting, the President of the Windward Island Teachers Union (WITU) arrived at the school.
“While I was there, Health & Labor Inspectors from the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor came to the school premises to conduct an inspection. The result of the inspection was then delivered to my person, in the presence of MLK, and DPE management first and then to the teachers, staff, and president of the WITU.
“The Health Inspectors raised four (4) concerns; the first one being the state of the roof, which continues to leak in the areas that have tarpaulin; secondly, in areas of the school that does not have non-slip tiles; thirdly, that non-slip material should be placed on the stairs; and finally in some classrooms the lights should be renewed.
“When asked if there were any issues of mold or fungus that were observed, they indicated no. The Health Inspectors declared that the school premises was fit to conduct school as no noticeable levels of contamination were detected. Following their normal protocol, they indicated that only if contaminants were detected then they would have to return to take readings to ascertain the levels.
“However, to provide comfort to everyone concerned it was requested that air quality testing be done at the school on Friday, March 18th, and as a result, the teachers and students were asked to work remotely on Friday. The Health Inspectors did indicate that compiling the report will take a few days but they gave an update of their findings verbally on Friday, March 18th.
“I also explained to all present that in the budget 2021 and 2022, I have reserved funds for the construction of a Gazebo which would provide the students at the school with a clean environment to play during the recess. There is a basketball court next door which is also being used by the school for physical education.
“I took the opportunity to hear directly from teachers while at the school who were concerned about the roof repairs. I did indicate that I am doing my best to ensure that the process goes as quickly as possible but that there are parts of the process that are out of the control of the Minister of ECYS, but this project is being treated with urgency.
“The teachers thanked me for returning to the school to listen to them. We agreed that we would meet more often. Clarity was given to the President of the WITU about the process of the roof repair project, and he was explained that the MLK school did not fall under the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) school repair program. He was also explained the process which the project must go through in Government and why it is taking some time. Providing a clean, safe, and hospitable working and education environment is a priority for me,” Minister of Education Hon. Rodolphe Samuel said on Sunday.