No water: School dismissed

Shortage of commodity plaguing educational institutions in Corporate Area

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

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Students were sent home yesterday morning after a check by the public health inspector found that the severe water shortage affecting sections of the Corporate Area had left bathrooms at Balcombe Drive Primary and Infant School in a messy state.

An empty schoolyard and deserted classrooms greeted the Jamaica Observer at the St Andrew school yesterday.

Principal Yvette Foster told the Observer that last Tuesday and Wednesday, when grade six students were sitting PEP, the school barely managed to stay open until Friday when students were sent home early because the taps were dry.

“We have been having this water problem from January. We have been getting water from the Fire Brigade but we have not gotten any from last week,” Foster said.

“This morning, there was still no water. The bathrooms are in a terrible state, so a person from public health came to inspect the infant department and based on what she saw, she said we can't keep the students here until we get some water and deal with the bathrooms,” Foster added.

“If the fire truck never give wi water, we woulda suffer. Every week, usually, the fire truck woulda come in, but the situation rough now because them nuh come from last week,” said ancillary worker Elaine Slater.

Another member of the ancillary staff, who lives in a nearby community, said the water shortage was a widespread problem in that area.

“From last year we don't have nuh water, but it a get worse. Sometimes we can't even cook. Mi guh to my bed sometimes and nuh bathe,” she said.

Another resident, Georgia Appleton, blamed the major road work on Hagley Park Road.

“It started with the road work. We didn't have water issues from before but since January it has been getting worse and worse every day. Them say we woulda get back likkle water by March, April, but it get worse,” said Appleton.

She said that residents have been buying water from private water trucks that have also been providing the scarce commodity to other schools in the area that are impacted by the shortage.

School administrators at Rousseau Primary, Maxfield Park Primary, and Norman Manley High School all shared stoically how their schools have been experiencing water shortage.

“We try our best to keep the bathrooms clean. Our chairman has purchased water and maybe one or two times the National Water Commission has sent water, but it is not enough, based on the fact that we have about 16 girl bathrooms and 15 boy bathrooms, plus the kitchen that needs the water because lunch is being cooked. Plus, we have bathrooms for the staff,” said Rousseau Primary Vice-Principal Karen Powell.

She explained that the water shortage has been problematic because of the number of students — 1,150 — plus the full staff complement, especially now with reports of the H1N1 influenza virus going around.

“What we did was take one of the garbage bins that we have and put them in the staff room and have one of the workers fill it with water. But it doesn't really last long, and our fear now is this H1N1 virus that is going around and children contracting flu. So for those reasons, we are in dire need of water,” Powell said, adding that her students have been using hand sanitiser, disinfectant and wipes.

“It is a challenge because when the children come and they need to use the bathroom, it becomes a problem. What we do is make sure to clean the bathrooms at break time and after lunch to ensure that the students have a clean bathroom to use at all times. So we are trying our best with the situation because the next step would be to close school, and that would be to the detriment of the children, especially those in grade six who are doing PEP. So we really don't want to disturb school because of the water,” the vice-principal said.

According to Powell, the problem is making life difficult for ancillary staff as they are forced to catch water from low pipes in order to clean the bathrooms. She said, too, that parents have been calling to find out if school is in session because they also don't have any water at home.

“We find that there are days when the population drops because they [parents] don't send their child to school because they have no water to get them ready to send them to school. Week before last, we were on the cusp on closing, but then a truck came and filled the tanks,” Powell told the Observer.

Meanwhile, Maxfield Park Primary Principal Beverly Gallimore Vernon said that her school has been weathering the storm.

“In all actuality, we had to put up three tanks to facilitate the process. But right now, if I call the NWC, they will take some water in, and that is how we have been surviving. There was one day last week when I had to dismiss school because I didn't have any water the day before and the bathrooms could not be cleaned. As such, I had to dismiss school because the water coming from the water commission would have been late in coming,” she told the Observer.

Gallimore Vernon also said that on the first day of PEP she had to close the school, accommodating only those students who were sitting the exam.

Adaire Powell Brown, principal of Norman Manley High — which has a student population of 1,500 and over 100 staff — said she also had to send students home because of the water shortage.

“It takes a while for the water to get here and we have to be contemplating whether to keep school or dismiss the students. The ministry [of education] is aware of the situation because they have asked us to send them the receipts of water we have had to purchase,” Powell Brown said.


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