PORT MARIA, St Mary — The Ministry of Education has declined to give a probable time frame for commencement of repairs to facilitate resumption of face-to-face classes at the flood-ravaged Port Maria Primary School.
The institution's limited face-to-face classes were suspended on February 1 when a sudden flood deposited mud all over the campus; damaged paperwork, furniture and three classrooms on the grade three block; and forced fire personnel to evacuate students and staff.
“The ministry is fully committed to offsetting the cost for the repairs, however, we await costings to effect the procurement activities,” the ministry's Communications Director Colin Steer said in a WhatsApp message, days after the Jamaica Observer requested that he provide information on what the ministry is doing regarding the school.
When asked a follow-up question about a possible time frame for the promised repairs, Steer would not be drawn into giving one. “Assessments have to be done and [a] report submitted. We await same,” he reiterated.
The Education Ministry is being accused of keeping some stakeholders in the dark and not moving swiftly enough to clean up and repair the school, which has approximately 900 students on roll. People also expressed disappointment that the education minister, Fayval Williams, has not visited the institution since the flood. Some other government ministers whose sectors were directly hit by the disaster have toured Port Maria. Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie visited more than once.
There is still much work to be done to clean up Port Maria Primary, three weeks after the flood.
“I think the Ministry of Education can do much better,” said Jennifer Taylor, president of the parent-teacher association. “The students are doing online classes but they are facing a lot of challenges because most of them don't have any gadgets, and the Wi-Fi is a terrible problem for them to connect to online classes.”
She reasoned that face-to-face classes are particularly important for grade-six students who are preparing for the delayed Primary Exit Profile (PEP), which is used to place students in secondary schools islandwide.
“Wi need more help. Wi need more parents to come out and volunteer to get Port Maria Primary up and running because the main thing is to have the grade-six students return to school to prepare for PEP,” said Taylor, who was seen at the school last Thursday washing some of the institution's flood-affected linen. She got help from another ancillary worker and past student, Audrey White, who said the school's recovery process is “very rough”.
White noted Prime Minister Andrew Holness's announcement that the island's schools, at which face-to-face learning has been disrupted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, will reopen fully following the mid-term break in March. She opined that, based on the pace of the recovery from the flood, Port Maria Primary may not be among those reopening at the time announced.
“I am worried,” White declared. “We are in crisis and we need help — a whole lot of help to recover.”
White, as well as Taylor, also support a proposal made years ago for the school to be relocated due to its susceptibility to flooding.
“I am not saying that the school should be relocated right now but further on I would like to see that, because every time this Port Maria flood we get a good hit — and it seems we are getting floods more often now,” White added.
The Observer has been trying to reach the school's principal, Carla Ruddock, for an assessment of the recovery efforts but the phone number on which she was previously contacted now rings repeatedly without an answer.