Sir John A. Cumber Primary School — The Petition: “To Provide Adequate Staffing, an Environmentally Safe and Healthy Learning Environment for Students and Staff.”
Is this what it takes, really, to get Cayman Islands education officials to provide our children with facilities that meet bare minimum standards for cleanliness and safety? Apparently so.
Parents of Sir John A. Cumber students were, it seems, as flabbergasted as we are by the presence of broken playground equipment and “suspected” mold in two classrooms at the primary school in West Bay. After parents met with the principal, created an online petition and circulated photos of the school online, the Ministry of Education issued a statement filled with the characteristic platitudes and bureaucratic pabulum — i.e., “one can imagine that the maintenance needs at schools are constant and voluminous” … “we can safely say that generally all of our schools are kept in good condition” …
In practical terms, the bottom line is that Principal Paul Samuel took the parental concerns to the education ministry, which is now addressing the issues. According to the ministry’s statement, “The first step is the removal of debris and the broken playground equipment.” (Someone, please explain how that sentence is compatible with the previous assertion that “schools are kept in good condition.”)
As for the possible mold, contractors “deep cleaned” two classrooms and the air conditioning systems, and the Department of Environmental Health will now test the air quality in those and nearby classrooms.
How can issues as obvious as broken equipment, “debris,” and mold be present in a primary school in a country as wealthy as ours, within a public education system as well-funded as ours? And, for the record, smack in the backyard of Education Minister Tara Rivers, who is an elected representative of West Bay?
Then again, Minister Rivers’s electoral catchment area had no bearing on the profusion of mold in the West Bay Fire Station, either. Lawmakers responded to that environmental health threat by turning it into an occasion for political posturing — by holding a ceremonial photo-op, attended by Minister Rivers and Premier Alden McLaughlin, to celebrate the reopening of the fire station after the government spent $35,000 on repairs.
Remember, too, that the parental outcry in West Bay is occurring in the context of more general protestations (from parents and teachers) against persistent shortages of classroom supplies, including paper, in government schools — a situation that ministerial officials have yet to acknowledge publicly.
Our government ought to keep in mind that we live in an age of smartphones, iPads, WhatsApp and Snapchat. Anybody — youth or adult — can transform into an investigative documentarian or reporter with the touch of a button. In this modern world, there’s no sure way to hide anything, especially something as obvious as a broken swing set.
At the end of its statement, the ministry encouraged parents to share any concerns they might have with principals, staff or ministry officials. That’s pretty good advice. Here’s some more: Share your photos, stories, tips, concerns or suggestions (critical, positive or just plain interesting) with the Compass.
Call us, post us a letter, email us, contact us via CaymanCompass.com or social media. Or, just walk into our Compass Centre office. If the powers that be don’t seem to be hearing you, we’ll do our best to get their attention. We’ll be your megaphone; we’ll be your publisher.