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Two primary schools still out of commission

Despite Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald’s assurance that Stephen Dillet Primary School was cleared by the Ministry of the Environment to reopen yesterday, the school was forced to close its doors as teachers staged a sit-in over “persisting” health concerns.

Uriah McPhee Primary School was also closed yesterday despite assurances by the minister on Monday that it would be open. Outside the Churchill Building Tuesday, Fitzgerald indicated that a decision was made not to resume classes at that school after environmental health officials said they were not satisfied all mold had been removed.

When The Nassau Guardian arrived at Stephen Dillet yesterday morning, students were being turned away at the gate, and parents who had dropped off their children were called back to the school to collect them.

But Fitzgerald said students and teachers should be in the classroom.

“I am not aware of any other concerns. I called this morning and they told me the kids had reported and the teachers had reported,” Fitzgerald said.

Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson told reporters outside Stephen Dillet yesterday that mold, malfunctioning air conditioning units and a lack of running water at the school remained unresolved concerns.

“They are telling the teachers, ‘Go into the school and teach.’ But teachers will not be teaching because…the air conditioning technicians are still here working, the vents are still filthy, the air is still thick and on top of that there is no water in the school,” Wilson said.

“How can you work? How can you teach? And how can children learn if the environment is not conducive? And for God’s sake parents, come and see about your children.

“It always has to be as if the union is embattled with the employer. Your children are in here also.”

Fitzgerald said he was not aware of the concerns Wilson raised.

“As I said, we are very concerned about any issues that would impact the health of teachers or students,” he said.

“The union does not have any more concern for students than we do at the Ministry of Education.”

Fitzgerald said he hopes Uriah McPhee will be able to open today.

Though he acknowledged the loss of classroom time, Fitzgerald said education officials are focused on ensuring that teachers and students return to a safe environment

Asked whether teachers who staged a sit-in at Stephen Dillet yesterday should expect disciplinary action, Fitzgerald said, “I don’t want to get into that.”

“I am unaware that they have another reason for sitting out, and I am not sure what that is so I don’t want to comment on that until I get all the facts,” he said.

Wilson added that the union sent a list of concerns to the Ministry of Education on Monday night, and is prepared to sit down and discuss possible solutions, but teachers will not return to the classroom until those issues are resolved.

The cost of repairs at both schools is expected to exceed $130,000, according to education officials.

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