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Oct 18, 2018

Students Sent Home as School’s Sewerage System Stops Working

A school in Dangriga had to send home its students this week after public health officials shut down the school because the sewerage system stopped functioning and the restrooms were no longer sanitary for the students to use.  But the problem worsened when neighbours started to complain and the health officials intervened to close down the school. The issue is a long standing one for many years but it reached a critical point a few days ago. Students have missed over a week of classes and today an engineer went in to assess the sewerage system. Only when it is completed they will know a timeline for when classes will resume. When we checked back with the principal this evening, she told us that she met with the engineer and had just ended the meeting. She will be able to provide more information on Friday. Andrea Polanco was in Dangriga and stopped in at the school to find out more.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Sacred Heart Primary School in Dangriga is empty today – it is a very strange scene for what’s to be a school day for almost five hundred students;  most classrooms are locked up and the students are nowhere in sight. That’s because health officials shut down the school on Wednesday because its sewage system is a health hazard to the students and the wider community. From the outside these restrooms look well maintained and functioning. But Principal Philippa Hulett says they are not working and there is a bigger problem underground – and it is not a new one but it got critical about three weeks ago.


Philippa Hulett, Principal, Sacred Heart Primary School

Philippa Hulett

“As long as it’s the rainy time, we always suffer with water and the pipes would then back up and nothing we flush would go out. So, what we normally do is that our maintenance worker would come in and clean the pipelines and from there our water would then flush. But it all has to do with sea level so if you notice we are nearby. And so that has always been the issue and I believe over time the situation was never really remedied and so it became a little bit worse with time. And so this year, at the end of September, we started to face this same issue. But we notice now that it got a little bit worse; now sand and so forth been coming up inside the commodes.”


So, the school attempted to remedy the situation by putting in a septic system. To do those works, the school closed down from October third until the eight. And the new system worked well for a few days until late last week when the toilets stopped flushing. The rains didn’t allow for more work to be done this weekend and by Tuesday the stench and flooding in the yard forced children to go home.


Philippa Hulett

“When we came here on Tuesday, the entire area was flooded. All the tanks were under water, every area on that end was flooded, so there was nothing we could have done that day and we had to send the children home. And so they [Health Officials] came yesterday, which was Wednesday and based on what they have seen, based on complaints given by neighbours, they came again and saw the situation and realized it was not a healthy environment for the children to be in and so with that they were forced to close off school for us.”


Andrea Polanco

“So, right now, you don’t know when the children will be back in school?”


Philippa Hulett

“I really can’t say.”


The hope is that it will be soon – but they will only know that after an engineer assesses the sewerage system. The Catholic School Management is directly responsible for the school’s facilities – and over the years it appears that there has been gross neglect that has escalated into closed classrooms less than two months into the new school year.

Philippa Hulett

“It is very frustrating. I am so exhausted as well because for the entire four days, I have to be here with the workmen trying to figure out what’s happening. For whatever reason, so we start one area so another situation arises.”


Andrea Polanco

“Who is really responsible for addressing this issue?”


Philippa Hulett

“What I generally think, because we are all stakeholders in education, this is something that all of us need to look into. I really wouldn’t want to point fingers. But I know that we fall under a management. I know in our handbook as well when it comes to maintenance and so forth, it falls directly under the management. But I know that besides that, being an educational institution and all parties, the community, the parents, everybody needs to be onboard so that we solve this problem and get our students back in.”


And so while a solution is ironed out, students must remain at home – except for the standard six students who are taking half day lessons.  Teachers are at school – not to teach but try to come up with solutions.


Howard Melendrez

Howard Melendrez, Teacher, Sacred Heart Primary School

“We are not just sitting around idling, every time the teaches assemble, we are also trying to see how we can project forward even though we are not engineers, we don’t have that specialty. We are trying to see how and what plan we will undertake when the children will be returning to school. Yes, it has become frustrating because parents are approaching us and the community on a whole is approaching us. So, we have to pull our minds together and our resources together to see how best we can undertake whatever is before us.”


Philippa Hulett

“We all know that the standardized exams are coming up and so we are very worried about our students. So, the two standard six teachers are really taking on this load and they have been here throughout this entire situation with the students. I have to be lobbying with my teachers and we have to be figuring out in terms of completion of plans, in terms of meeting expectations of our students. It is so much and you come here with a mindset that there is so much you can do in one day and you realize that this situation is beyond my control.”


Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.

We spoke with the Education Officer in Dangriga who informed us that she is aware of the situation and that her office has offered support to the school. She says they stand ready and willing to assist although the matter falls under the purview of the Catholic Management in Dangriga. When we reached out to the assistant manager, Novencia Diego, she informed us that she was not able to provide any information because the manager was out of the country and he is scheduled to return on Friday.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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