By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
TEACHERS and students have been ordered to return to the A.F. Adderley Junior High School campus on Monday amidst union concerns over the safety of ongoing construction.
The ministry underscored an “extensive and detailed investigation” had found the campus was within Occupation Health and Safety standards, and outlined its efforts to satisfy concerns levelled by teachers in a statement on Friday.
The Bahamas Union of Teachers had previously asked the government to relocate eighth and ninth graders at A F Adderley due to ongoing construction, which they believe makes the area unhealthy and unsafe even though it was fenced in.
Yesterday, BUT president Belinda Wilson replied to the government, suggesting it would be "more fruitful for the ministry to ensure that funds are paid to the contractors in a timely manner rather than threaten teachers".
In response to the government’s statement, Mrs Wilson spoke to the embattled history of teachers assigned to the junior high school on Baillou Hill Road that has persisted for more than a decade.
She detailed an unsuitable and hazardous environment with open trenches and sewerage overflow, and questioned education officials whether they would allow their own children to attend school under present circumstances.
"From 2006 they were placed in trailers after the administration block and many classrooms were demolished," Mrs Wilson said.
"Since 2017 teachers and students have been displaced as they were divided between two campuses. Teachers did not complain, the Bahamas union of teachers monitored the situation and expected the construction of the school to be completed by now bearing in mind that a few deadlines were missed."
Mrs Wilson continued: "On the return of teachers last week trenches were open, sewerage overflow, yard settled water from rain, electrical pipes were exposed, monkey tamarind was in an area easily accessible to the students.
"The yard is congested with workmen, heavy equipment, back hoes and other equipment. The union and the teachers are of the view that the school is unsafe. Teachers and students should not be subjected to working under those conditions."
Seventh graders are currently located at Workers House, and the union has recommended eighth grades be placed at the Thomas A Robinson stadium and ninth graders at the Mabel Walker school campus.
The union suggests the government bus students to the stadium similar to the arrangement for seventh grade students.
Mrs Wilson said union officials and two teachers have visited alternative sites, adding teachers were prepared to relocated and teach if necessary.
"Instead of reaching an agreement with the teachers the ministry only want the teachers to return to the classrooms," Mrs Wilson said.
"Some of the classrooms on the main campus are a part of the construction work to be completed. The union's priority is for the teachers to be able to teach and the students learn in an environment that is conducive for learning."
In its statement yesterday, the ministry noted there had been no formal complaints about the campus when teachers returned for orientation, a full week before the school was opened to students.
The ministry said teachers at AF Adderley brought complaints to the principal on the first day of school, September 3.
Despite all efforts to address the teacher's concerns, inclusive of forming a joint team of officials from Ministry of Education, and the Acting Director of Labour and a Safety Inspector of the Occupational Health and Safety Unit – the ministry said teachers were still refusing to work on Wednesday.
The ministry statement read: "Their report noted that even though construction is ongoing, those activities do not impede the delivery of the instructional output. Construction areas continue to be securely enclosed to ensure that students and staff are not given access to the construction site or exposed to any matter which could prove detrimental to their health.
"Additionally," the ministry statement continued, "all pathways accessible to staff and students have been found safe for traversing and any foliage deemed detrimental to the health of students and members of staff, has been cut and removed from the campus."
The ministry noted it has considered recommendations put forward by the union and the Department of Education, but found only the stadium was available. It added the area was challenged, and other locations did not meet requirements for a safe learning environment.
It outlined conditions for an alternative location, which included a structural assessment by the Ministry of Works; a costing proposal submitted to the Office of the Attorney General for vetting; liability insurance purchased by landlord or Ministry of Education; and a lease approved by the Treasurer, Permanent Secretary or Director of Education.
"The Department of Education values and respects our educators and wishes for an amicable and speedy
settlement to all of their concerns that is satisfactory to all parties," the ministry statement said.
It continued: "We advocate for mutual respect and wish to avoid any disruption to the education of our children. It is for this reason that we expect teachers and students to report back to the A.F. Adderley Junior High School campus for their usual time on Monday, 10th September 2018."