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Andrew John, the opposition New Democratic Party’s candidate for the South Windward, left, and Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock in March 9, 2024 photos.
Andrew John, the opposition New Democratic Party’s candidate for the South Windward, left, and Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock in March 9, 2024 photos.

Two opposition politicians say that the latest flea infestation at the two temporary secondary school campuses in Arnos Vale is illustrative of wider government neglect of public infrastructure.

Students at the Girls’ High School (GHS) and Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS) were sent home on Tuesday to return next Monday, as health officials treated yet another flea infestation at the schools’ location at the decommissioned ET Joshua Airport.

Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock, and Andrew John, the opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate for the South Windward, addressed the issue on their party’s radio programme on Wednesday.

John, a retired educator, who is the immediate past industrial relations officer of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union, said that the flea infestation has been an ongoing one.

Meanwhile, Leacock pointed out that the schools have had to be relocated to the temporary site because the government failed to maintain their permanent campuses, located in Richmond Hill.

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John also noted the disrepair at the school’s permanent locations.

“…  it was because of the carelessness and wilful neglect of these buildings that we had to go to the tarmac in a hurry because they allowed the buildings that were there to go into a serious state of disrepair.”

He said no repair has been done at the TSSS over the past five years.

TSSS moved into the temporary buildings in 2022 after the St. Vincent Grammar School vacated it last September.

“So, it means that there is no short-term solution that is going to take place with that,” he said, adding that this means that the school will have to continue at the temporary location for “more extensive than we are seeing”.

John noted his previous post as industrial relations officer of the teachers’ union, adding that he is in solidarity with union president, Oswald Robinson, who is trying to get the matter resolved.

“Now the government went out there and they put down these buildings, which … were intended to be temporary. And we are in five years ongoing and as I just mentioned, there is no solution, in terms of removing the Thomas Saunders,” he said.

TSSS
Thomas Saunders Secondary School at its temporary location in Arnos Vale.

John noted that work is ongoing at GHS.

However, on Wednesday, Minister of Education Curtis King gave an update on the school but could not give a definite timeline for when students are likely to return to the GHS campus.

John said that dealing with the flea issue must include addressing the problem of stray dogs on the campuses.

“And you know, if they go under there, the sand, once the fleas get into that, it is going to be difficult.”

John, however, said that the government has been too reactionary in dealing with the situation, adding that it has happened two or three times before.

“The fleas not going to reach a stage where the school has to be closed overnight. So, there would have been warnings,” he said, adding that the first time the problem manifested itself, it was the students who made it public by sharing photos of flea bites on their bodies.

John agreed with Robinson that the problem could not be addressed in two days.

“You have to monitor the situation to ensure that these dogs do not return,” he said, adding that fleas are hard to kill.

“… you cannot use dangerous poisons or poison on a building and then in two days, you’re asking children to return to school. This is totally uncalled for,” he said.

On Wednesday, King said that students would return to school on Friday, two days after the compounds were treated.

But John suggested that the students return on Monday.

The school later told the students to return to call on Monday, continuing their education online in the interim, iWitness News was reliably informed. 

John also urged the government to take better care of schools across the country. 

“This is the first time I’m seeing where every time you allow a building to go right down to the ground,” he said.

John said this is the case with the Stubbs Police Station, where officers were relocated to rented premises over five years ago because of the extensive decay at the station. 

He noted that Grammar School was also located temporarily at the tarmac.

“We don’t know which one they’re going to allow to go down to the extent that they will take whenever maybe [Girls’] High School comes out,” he said.

“We need to be serious about education. We have to take things much more seriously than that,” John said.

GHS
A section of Girls High School on Thursday, April 25, 2024.

Leacock told radio listeners that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves was dismissive of him when he asked in Parliament a few years ago a question about the disrepair at the SVGS.

“… I distinctly remember the nonchalant response of the prime minister  … who was typically playing politics and he wanted to grandstand and give the impression that he was not particularly interested in quote-unquote the Ivy League schools, the special privileged people and so on …” Leacock said.

“… ironically enough, the headmaster of the school at the time was Curtis King and the insult and injury to the grammar school and its poor state was hurled at him,” he said.

King, a trade unionist and educator, entered politics after retiring from teaching and was elected in 2020 as MP for West St. George. He is also Minister of Education, with responsibility for primary and secondary schools. 

“He left that squalor and migrated to join the very political party that has embarrassed him and not just on school premises, but on NIS (National Insurance Service) and so many other issues,” Leacock said. 

He said the NDP was fortunate to have John, “an educator, a strong community activist, with experience in the field of industrial relations”.

Leacock, an NDP vice president, joined John in “saluting the work” of Robinson, the teachers’ union president.

He said the flea infestation is a public health as well as occupational safety matter.

“… there is a root cause to the environmental issues and addressing it as to what are the possible causes. Maybe dogs habituating on the school. We don’t know if that is singularly or wholly all of it.

“It may be that plus there may be other foundational issues that contribute to it. But here it is the responsibility of government.”

He noted that the government passed a strong occupational health and safety law that all businesses are obliged to respect.

“… the government has an obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace for the teachers and other administrative personnel…” Leacock said.

Leacock suggested that it would take at least two years to repair the TSSS Richmond Hill campus if the government has the money to do so.

“And we don’t see the evidence of that because the property is in bad condition inside and outside,” he said, adding that even the fencing is an “eyesore”.

St. Clair Leacock
Central Kingstown MP St. Clair Leacock in a March 9, 2024 photo.

He said that the government has over the years ignored the upkeep of schools opting to depend on the benevolence of the private sector.

“But across the board, island-wide, schools are in atrocious and deplorable conditions, not fit for purpose in many instances,” he said.

The Central Kingstown MP said this is “because of the persistent, consistent lying, cheating, manipulation, and masquerading that takes place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines — the budget. The dance cannot pay for the lights.”

Leacock said that annually, the fiscal package includes money that the government does not have.

“This annual exercise of presenting an image that you will do things with money that you don’t have eventually manifests itself in the amount of things that just simply will not happen on the recurrent side where the money is short and even worse, on the capital side, where it is even more non-existent,” Leacock said.

 “The government is bluffing, fooling,” he said, adding that this is seen in the road infrastructure and “the general state of poor maintenance of government buildings…

“If you want to get rid of the fleas then you also have to get rid of the pups,” Leacock said.

4 replies on “Flea problem at Tarmac schools exposes wider gov’t neglect — NDP”

  1. You have to come better than that..I so want to see the NDP in office but also,they can’t picture themselves in office..they’re being so opposition like. Mr Leacock, let’s look at the school system in the 90’s in Vincy, lots of schools had a system where some kids went for a few hours in the morning and then those kids would make way for another set of kids to use the same class room,in the afternoon.
    Unemployment ,poverty and an unjust justice system are the issues that are hurting Vincentians. NDP, after 23 yrs you have a hard time figuring out the real issues in Vincy. As the longest serving opposition in the region, you should be held accountable for not representing a large swath of the Vincentian populace in the way you should.

  2. Me too is waiting on an NDP government I certainly want to see Leacock and Cummings in office however when I look at ndp performance and pronouncements once again I want to start running early ,if you ever visit their site and read whats there it always sounds like an endorsement of the governments actions then Mr.Friday want to aline us with China something that has already happen despite ralph best efforts we beg Twian but we are close friends of Venezuala who is in turn heavly dependant on russia even hosting it bombers who in turn because of the war in Ukraine has also become heavily depandent on China who is doing everything possible to get bases close to america including our own airport that we cannot afford to maintain now we are being urged to learn spanish for free as a second language paid for by venezuala who will surely show up again in st.vincent once an election is announced NDP needs to get its act quickly together as the writing is already on the wall ralph is spending our taxes travelling everywhere ( except Haiti ) and trying to play what he is not while at home giving his son a chance at photo opps and headlines

  3. Take warning says:

    It’s the people,, they love it so. Give them lumbar, galvernize, cement,, a jersey with 50 dollars and other gifts , they will be contented. It’s a saying that fools dotish stupid people are always satisfied.

  4. Gift all like galvanize, food stuff are enough to ensure six in a row. The adage who pays the piper calls the sound holds true. We are a people who are susceptible to bribery is a truism.

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