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Turmoil at Tatem after teachers’ no-show

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T.N. Tatem teachers and staff took part in a "sick-out" yesterday as school closes for the day (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Teachers called in sick en masse yesterday at the T.N. Tatem Middle School as friction escalated over air quality.

The “sick-out”, which is believed to have involved all but two teachers, appeared to take the school by surprise as students came in for an 8.30am presentation on the America’s Cup — just as notice came from the Ministry of Education saying T.N. Tatem would have to close for the day.

This morning, staff at the school reported that it had reopened today.

Principal Francine McMahon was on hand, and last night Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education, issued a detailed statement on efforts to deal with the school’s mould problems, which could include temporarily relocating students to Clearwater to clear the building.

As of 5pm, Mr Scott had heard no updates from teachers or the unions regarding today, adding: “We would expect that all teachers will report to work as scheduled.”

The move was poorly received by a number of parents, with one mother taken aback at coming home and find her son already there.

“Children have been out of school with nothing to do, wandering around and going into town, and we didn’t even get an e-mail,” she told this newspaper.

“My son is missing schoolwork, missing a test that he had today, and we were supposed to have a parent-teacher conference, so there were parents that took time off work.”

Disrepair has been a longstanding complaint at T.N. Tatem, with mould in the classrooms emerging as a top concern.

The parent who spoke with us said she had worries about her son, who has asthma, getting sick from it.

The issue boiled over on November 17, with staff and parents taking their concerns to officials from the Ministry of Education.

Calling on the school last week, The Royal Gazette saw four rooms sealed off for mould abatement.

Toxic strains aspergillus and penicillium mould, both of which resulted in the closure of the Supreme Court registry last month, were said to have been found in the rooms. An unspecified number of teachers have complained of lethargy, headaches, redness of the eyes and swelling of the face.

Materials such as paper were damaged in the art rooms, where cupboards were taken down and found to be “black” with mould.

“We are asking for the whole school to be tested, and not just those four rooms,” one teacher said.

The affected rooms have been taped off with plastic zippered covers over their doors and signs advising of mould abatement. Sources at the school told this newspaper that uncertainty was high among staff, with one saying that “promises keep getting made but not getting done, with no concerted effort”.

Mr Scott’s statement last night appeared to allay these concerns, with a pledge to keep teachers, parents and the public informed. A report from the Government’s health and safety officer was expected to be ready by yesterday, with more details within 48 hours.

The company contracted with mould abatement is to restrict work to evenings and weekends, to prevent conflict with school hours. Two rooms, room 235 and the art room, have been cleaned, but are undergoing further tests.

Any staff with health concerns were asked to report to the principal, who is keeping a log of environmental concerns.

Stressing that “children come first”, Mr Scott said a final decision would be based on the health and safety reports.

“Once we get the facts from the report, a decision will be made regarding whether remediation can be done outside of school hours, over the weekends and the upcoming school break, or if it would be in the best interest of all concerned to shut the building and temporarily move all students to Clearwater where there is sufficient capacity,” the minister said.

“However, any findings and plan will be fully communicated to T.N. Tatem family, and to the greater community.”

Captain of Team Oracle, Jimmy Spithill, did turn up, though, and spoke to the students as part of the Endeavor Programme (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
A classroom sealed off at TN Tatem Middle School (Photograph supplied)
<p>Foggo calls for action</p>

Shadow education minister Lovitta Foggo called on the education minister and public works minister to tackle the problems plaguing T.N. Tatem Middle School.

“We call on both ministers to address these issues, complete with a plan and timeline that will complete these repairs,” Ms Foggo said in a statement last night.

“Public school students and teachers deserve safe and healthy schools to function in.”

The Progressive Labour Party added that it is “reprehensible” that the lack of repair and maintenance at the school has caused students to lose a day’s education “due to teachers taking necessary moves to protect their health”.