No school has been spared the impact of volcanic ash which descended on Barbados, in the last few days, with the eruption of La Soufriere Volcano in St. Vincent.
This assessment was shared today by Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Santia Bradshaw, as she addressed a virtual press conference at Ilaro Court.
Stating that the Education Technical Management Unit (ETMU), principals, chairmen of the Boards of Management and other management officials had carried out assessments on school plants, she said: “Our findings have revealed that there are blankets of ash covering every building and every corridor; there is ash which has entered the classroom through, in particular, the breezeblocks. For many of you, you may not realise, but a lot of the schools … have the ventilation blocks that would have allowed for better ventilation within the schools.
“As a consequence, the classrooms would not have been protected. So, you’ll have a lot of the ash having blown into the classrooms. And truthfully, where there may have been a broken window pane or even a louvre window, the ash has entered into the classroom and of course that now has to be cleaned thoroughly.”
Minister Bradshaw said the team also realised that guttering and downpipes had also been impacted, and, in some cases, would have to be cleaned or disconnected to prevent the impact of further ashfall, something the Ministry would have to prepare for as well.
“No school has been spared from the impact of the ash, just as no household across Barbados has been spared. We have responsibility for over 105 schools, ranging from nursery to tertiary. And therefore, over the course of the last few days, we have made a determination that we have obviously to take certain action to get the school plants ready to return students and teachers to the classroom environment,” she declared.
With school now set to reopen on April 26, the Education Minister added that so far, the ancillary staff had started to clean up on the inside and outside of school buildings. However, she noted that the Ministry recognised the need for technical assistance to reach more difficult areas and spaces to carry out the in-depth cleaning required.
Elaborating, she said: “As you can appreciate, we have multi-storey buildings; it is not that straightforward to just use more ladders to be able to reach the guttering, and therefore we will have to have persons who may have the appropriate equipment to be able to assist them in clearing the guttering. We also recognise that we’re going to need the professional cleaning services and other technical staff to be able to assess the AC units [and], the PVC panels. There are a number of photovoltaic panels in a number of our school buildings.”
The Minister added that the water tanks, which were in the process of being cleaned, would also need to be checked, as well as the generators that would have been installed during the hurricane preparedness programme
Ms. Bradshaw, who revealed that additional personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, goggles, had been secured for staff, undertaking work in the external environment, stressed that the Ministry would be paying particular attention to schools which had only one janitor and no dedicated general worker.
She also disclosed that the Ministry had developed a series of protocols for cleaning firms engaged in the clean-up exercise to give “some very clear guidelines” on how to dispose of the ash. These protocols will be shared with principals.
Monitoring of the clean-up exercise will be undertaken by the ETMU and the Ministry’s Building Maintenance officers. This, according to the Education Minister, is to ensure compliance with protocols and that no shortcuts would be taken in relation to the cleaning and sanitising of school premises.