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Students still being bitten, say parents

Frustrated and concerned parents of Harrington Sound Primary students challenged education minister Cole Simons yesterday during a PTA meeting at the school.

While Mr Simons told the crowd that preliminary tests had found no further bird mites at the school, parents and teachers complained that children were still suffering bites.

Several parents said they would not send their children back to the school until the issue was resolved, while Mr Simons pledged to provide parents and the school with more information about the way forward tomorrow.

“We will get back to [principal] Cindy Weeks tomorrow morning when we get the final report,” he said yesterday. “We will then craft a plan that can be shared with you once we get that report.

“Hopefully, this all will be completed tomorrow before school closes.”

A statement this afternoon, Mr Simons said that work to block off points of access for birds will begin on May 25, and is hoped to be completed by June 2.

“We will continue to inspect the school throughout the work and every week thereafter to ensure we have addressed the problem,” he said. “After the conclusion of this work, we will invite the Safety and Health Officer to review the work that has been completed.

“I am confident that we now have corrective measures in place to safely address and eliminate the problem and lessen the need for further disruption. The Ministry of Education is committed to work together with the Harrington Sound family to find the best way forward, so that the students, teachers and staff have safe and healthy environment to work and learn.”

The meeting came days after the school was temporarily closed due to reports of bird mites, small parasitic insects that live on birds.

While the crowd were told that bird mites cannot live for long once they have fallen off a bird, their bites can cause irritation to humans. Scratching the bites can lead to further irritation and possibly infection.

Attendees were told that when the reports of red marks were first brought up by a teacher, it was suspected that the cause was chickenpox, and it was only until several students went to their doctors that the cause was identified — mites coming from birds nesting in the school's roof.

A representative for Bermuda Pest Control said the areas of infestation were identified and the areas were sprayed and cleaned, noting that as of yesterday no further evidence of bird mites had been identified.

He also said that “tenting” the building would not make a significant difference, adding that it was possible students could be bitten outside of the school building.

“Bermuda has a problem right now with bird mites,” he said.

“The mites are multiplying like there's no tomorrow. We are getting five or six calls a day about bird mites.”

Meanwhile, education commissioner Freddie Evans and Mr Simons said Works and Engineering have been contacted about sealing up the roof to prevent birds from entering the area.

Mr Simons said that a preliminary report by an independent health inspector found no evidence of bird mites. However, parents complained their students were still coming home with what appeared to be bite marks, questioning if another infestation could be the cause.

One father said he saw birds flying in and out of the roof shortly before the meeting, asking how they could be certain that more mites are not getting into the school while the birds are still flying in and out at will.

And another parent said: “We need to get it right because it's hurting our children, and it needs to get fixed right away.”

Parents in attendance also repeatedly attacked the lack of communication about the problem, with one saying: “I don't even know what to look for.”

In a statement this afternoon Diallo Rabain, the PLP spokesperson for education, took aim at the Government's handling of the matter, saying that teachers had withdrawn students from the building earlier that day after it was revealed the Department of Health and Safety had not been contacted at that time.

“It was only during the emergency PTA meeting last night that parents were fully informed of the situation,” Mr Rabain said. “As we wait for adequate answers to be provided about the safety of the school, the status of the bird mite infestation and the steps ahead to address it, questions must be asked as to the priorities of the OBA Government yet again.

“The TN Tatem mould infestation provided an opportunity for the OBA to refocus their priorities on health and safety issues in our public schools. Instead, as Mr Simons himself remarked, the OBA once again dropped the ball on our public school students and teachers.

“This state of affairs is unacceptable. I call on the Minister of Education to provide assurances that this situation will be dealt with in a timely manner and that the health and safety of all our schools will be assessed. We cannot wait for yet another incident in another school to occur before taking action.”

Minister Cole Simons (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published May 23, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 23, 2017 at 6:16 pm)

Students still being bitten, say parents

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