Penal parents put school protest on hold ‘for now’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

WE WANT A NEW SCHOOL: Parents protest outside the dilapidated St Dominic’s RC School in Penal on Tuesday. Photo by Marvin Hamilton

The staff and parents of pupils from the St Dominic’s RC School in Penal are expected to meet with officials from the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) on deplorable conditions at the school in the next few days.

On Wednesday, the day after protesting parents demanded that the Government build a new school, they were told of the upcoming meeting.

Valeen Smart, who has a daughter at the school, said the protests are on hold “for now.”

She added, “It is set to be held at the (Penal Community) centre for a date after Levi’s funeral.”

Levi Lewis, 12, was a student of the school. He and his mother Abeo Cudjoe, 30, of Lachoos Road, Penal, were murdered on May 10. Cudjoe, the mother of two, was chopped and stabbed, and Levi was stabbed in the neck.

Over five years ago, students from standard one to five were relocated to the centre, owing to the dilapidated conditions of the wooden school at Oliviere Drive. Students of the infant’s department have been housed at the St Dominic’s RC Parish Hall, across the street from the original school.

On Tuesday, parents complained about cramped conditions and plumbing and electrical issues.

Later that day, an article in the Catholic News by Kaelanne Jordan quoted CEBM’s CEO Sharon Mangroo as saying the school was built in 1967.

Mangroo said in 2016/2017, the school was found to be structurally unsound and was recommended for demolition and replacement. To date, it has not been demolished.

The school has 253 students and 14 teachers.

Mangroo recalled that in 2018 the parish priest, Fr Robert Christo, embarked on refurbishing the church hall to make it more “habitable.” The work included adding AC units, windows for ventilation, upgrades to the roof, installing doors and general aesthetic upgrades.

Mangroo added, “Then the community centre was a problem, because at one point it wasn’t OSHA-compliant. The Ministry of Education did some work until OSHA was satisfied. It’s been ongoing. So it’s not as neglected.”

The article said owing to the agreement with the ministry for the use of the school property, the ministry does repairs. The ministry is also responsible for replacing the school building when necessary.

Mangroo said the ministry had not approached the CEBM on plans to replace the school. She added the ministry says it has no money to rebuild.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has said she intends to investigate the parents’ complaints. She added that several other public schools nationwide have been decanted and awaiting construction over the years.