Bigwood residents protest against basic school closure
Removal of bats, renovation given as reason to shut facility for a yearThursday, July 22, 2021
BY KASEY WILLIAMS
CRAIGHEAD, Manchester — Some residents and a school leader here are concerned that the planned one-year closure of the only basic school in their community — the Bigwood Early Childhood Institution (ECI) — will cause setbacks for children in the area.
The angry residents protested on Sunday bearing placards at the entrance to the school compound.
“We have nowhere else to send our children,” one of the placards read.
Principal Rosalyn Daley told the Jamaica Observer that the temporary closure is to facilitate the removal of bats — more commonly called rat bats — and renovation.
“The issue is that we are having problems at the school with rat bats. Three times we challenged the rat bats, but because of how the school is sealed, they (rat bats) continued to multiply. Monday (July 12) we went, and we took the sealing down, we sprayed and foamed [it], so that the rat bats wouldn't get back in,” she said by telephone.
When the Observer contacted Chief Public Health Inspector Charmaine Palmer-Cross, she said a team inspected the institution on Tuesday and that the bats do pose a potential health hazard.
She said the department would work with the school to ensure it is safe to accommodate children.
“In terms of public health, we would have had that as a concern and would not want them to operate with that situation there. Definitely we would not allow it. However, if they are treating it, then we would work with them over the period before school reopens [in September],” she said.
“It (rat bats) can become a health hazard for humans in general because the faeces would carry germs which can cause different diseases,” she added.
However, the contention for Daley and some residents is that the planned one-year break for renovation reportedly outlined by the school board is much too long.
They say the board, which is now chaired by pastor at the Craighead United Brethren in Christ, Andrew Blake, has been unfair in making decisions.
The church and basic school are on the same property but, according to Daley, prior to Blake's arrival, the two institutions had separate boards of directors and were run separately.
“The chairman was sent as pastor [for] the church, but when he came … he started to make decisions about the school. The school is on the church property, but over the years the school had its own board and the church has its own board, but since he came, he said, 'Nothing must go like that. It is one board',” said Daley.
When contacted, Blake declined to comment and told the Observer to contact the church office, but the phone rang without an answer.
Daley said parents are calling for the school which can accommodate 50 students to be prioritised over renovation at the church.
“He (Blake) decided with the board members that they are going to close down the school for one year to renovate, but before he does that there are some little challenges that the church is having so they are going to sort out the problems of the church first, before he sort out the school problems,” she said.
“The parents and the community got very angry, because the school is in the very heart of the community… The school serves children inside and outside the community. The parents [are saying] that they have nowhere to send their children.”
“Other schools are there but the children would have to take taxis and it is far, so what they (parents) are saying is the school doesn't have to be closed down. Whatever little challenge or problem is there it can be addressed, so that school can be open for September,” she added.
Tishana Morgan, a resident who identified herself as a community leader and past student of the school, explained that the rat bats have been there for decades.
“The school has been in progress for over 37 years. The rat bats were there all along. It was not a big issue until this chairman … came one morning and said he will be the chairman for the school. He said he will be closing down the school for a year,” said Morgan.
Morgan complained that the temporary closure of the school will have a negative impact on the education of young children in the community — already hampered by the long break caused by COVID-19.
“The parents in the community have nowhere to send their children as this is the only [basic] school in the centre of the community. You have the church, the post office and clinic about 15 minutes away,” she added.
“School was closed last year in March [because of COVID-19]. Why didn't he tend to the situation at that time? Why is it now when probably school will be open in September that he wants to close down the school for a year? That doesn't make any sense,” said Morgan.
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