On Monday, 124 students of the RC school, began classes on the compound of the Govt School after the RC school was closed on May 23, when it was declared structurally unsound by engineers from the Education Facilities Management Company Limited (EFCL). The Government school can accommodate a maximum of 240 students, but at present has an enrollment of 110 students.
If Minister Gopeesingh’s merger plan goes ahead, the school will have an enrollment of 234 students (124 RC students combined with 110 Govt students), still six short of the maximum.
Hours after the RC students began their studies at the Govt school, Minister Gopeesingh chaired a town-hall styled meeting Monday evening at the Govt School compound on FitzAllen Street off La Horquette Branch Road, Carenage. Present among parents of students of both the Govt and RC schools and some students of both schools, was Member of Parliament for the area (Diego Martin West) and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley.
“I’ve taken note of what your MP Dr Rowley has said about spending the past 20 years looking for suitable land. So until such time as the (Catholic Education) Board can indicate to the Ministry of Education that it has found land for us to build you a new school, we will consider this move a permanent solution,” Gopeesingh told the gathering.
This was greeted with shouts of “No!” among parents of the RC students, while parents of the Govt students looked on incredulously.
Gopeesingh, addressing the upset RC parents, asked if it made sense to spend tax payers’ money to build a new school when one already exists that is underutilised and can accommodate the student population of both RC and Govt schools.
“Can I take taxpayers’ money to build another school, at 50 percent or less occupation, when the Pt Cumana Government Primary School has the space to accommodate students from your (RC) school? Building a new RC primary school in Carenage is something we will have to consider for the future with the Catholic (Education) Board,” Gopeesingh stated.
Recently appointed Chairman of the Catholic Education Board Fr Ronald Mendes who was at Monday evening’s meeting, assured parents that, “the Board and the Catholic Church are determined to replace the school as soon as possible.” He expressed confidence that, “the problem of who stays where can be worked out so that no one group is placed at a disadvantage.”
Asked to comment yesterday, Archbishop Harris said: “The choice of Catholic Education is a right of members of the Catholic Church and in accordance with the legal obligations of the State, the Minister of Education we are advised, has no constitutional power to determine whether a Catholic primary school is to exist or not.”
Told of Gopeesingh’s plan to merge both schools, Fr Harris said: “As a result of this development, we intend to move our teachers and children to another location with immediate effect until this situation is resolved. Please be advised that we are exploring our legal options in this matter.”
The Education Ministry late yesterday afternoon issued a press statement saying that Minister Gopeesingh has requested an urgent joint meeting with Archbishop Harris and Dr Rowley, “in order to quickly rectify this situation in the best interest of all concerned.”
At Monday’s meeting, parent Simone Francis whose three sons attend the RC School, angrily objected to the merger. “My children not staying in Pt Cumana RC School if the Education Minister plans to make this merger permanent. My oldest boy passed for QRC (Queen’s Royal College) and this is because of the high standards at the RC school,” Francis loudly declared.
“I’m not risking my two younger sons’ futures,” Francis added, “by letting teachers from the Government School teach them! They have a lower pass rate than teachers from the RC school. I will move my children to another school before I let this happen,” she vowed.
Responding to what parents had to say during the meeting, Gopeesingh announced a complete integration of staff and students, thereby putting an end to RC school teachers teaching only their students in set locations on the Government school compound.
“There must be integration of students and parents. As such, I have directed Acting Chief Education Officer, Harrilal Seecharan, and School Supervisor II for PoS and environs, Rose Bereaux, to come to the school compound this week and work with the principals and staff to ensure no more separation of students,” Gopeesingh stated.
He added that the Ministry of Education would “allocate which teacher teaches which class. We cannot have RC teachers teaching only RC students.”
Staff and students would also take their recess and lunch breaks at the same time, unlike the staggered breaks of earlier this week.
He acknowledged the voices of dissent in the audience but said these decisions had been made in the students’ best interest and urged their parents to put an end to the animosity, before it could have a negative effect on their children.
Rowley echoed this call in his closing remarks, telling those of his Diego Martin West constituents gathered at the Pt Cumana Government Primary School to remember, “children are very perceptive and will either accept or react to the perceptions others have of them.”