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Ministry responds to dust claims

Monday June 25, 2018 Written by Published in Education
The feet and legs of these Apii Nikao school students are caked with dust. 18062416 The feet and legs of these Apii Nikao school students are caked with dust. 18062416

Following on from a CINews story raising health concerns about the newly constructed Apii Nikao, the Ministry of Education has said the building was “safe, secure and ready for use” upon its official opening in April, even as the secretary of the school’s parent-teacher association suggests that wasn’t the case.

Commenting on the CINews Facebook page regarding a story which quoted parents claiming that their children came home from school covered in dust and suffering from dust inhalation, Apii Nikao PTA secretary Maire Forsyth said she raised the issue of the school’s “dust and filthiness” during the first week students were in the new building.

“The school unfortunately was not cleaned before the children moved in,” said Forsyth. “Essentially this was the school, CIIC and Ministry of Education’s shared responsibility in my opinion.”

Forsyth went on to add that the school’s floors had not been treated with enough coats of sealant – “therefore would never get clean and dust free until they had more coats applied”.

However, she did say that the school had since made every effort to remedy the situation, sealing a classroom each weekend for the past three or four weekends.

“The school has a limited expense budget and since the first week the children moved in, the school, CIIC and PTA (I am secretary) have made major improvements,” said Forsyth.

“The school held a working bee and it was cleaned as well as it could be with the limited number of parents that turned up to help (due to insufficient notice).

“Large carpet mats have been bought by the school for each classroom, vacuum cleaners for each classroom, mops and buckets for each classroom, non-slip mats for bathrooms and cleaning products for each classroom.”

Forsyth also revealed that the school’s teachers and students clean the school’s bathrooms themselves, as cleaners had not yet been hired. “It is a huge task,” she said, adding that the Ministry of Education was currently in the process of contracting cleaners for the school.

While Forsyth said there were issues with the building “overall”, she did say that “these are being rectified as we speak by the Chinese and local contractors”.

Forsyth also described the school as “a beautiful learning space for the children and teachers”.

“I think I can speak for a lot of parents, teachers and children that they are so grateful for the opportunity to gain an education in the space that was given to them,” she said.

“All the schools on the island need help, and we as parents can help by providing our time (if we have it) to ensure that our schools prosper and so do our kids. I am sure that our teachers would be appreciative.”

In a release sent out last Friday, the Ministry of Education was at pains to point out that “no complaints have been received from parents suggesting health issues arising from the new school facilities”.

“Health and wellbeing of our learners and staff is paramount to the school and we maintain open communication with parents on any concerns so that issues can be addressed,” it read.

“The Ministry of Education with the Cook Islands Investment Corporation and other agencies and contractors worked to ensure that upon its official opening of the new buildings in April of this year that the school was safe, secure and ready for use.”

Addressing the issue of dust, the release stated that, “floors are polished and CIIC are in the view that any remaining dust is externally generated. This should become clear when the sealing of the road is completed”.

“Notices have been sent to parents to advise that the building is safe for their children and provided them with details on raising any concerns with the school principal to manage.

“We continue to be grateful for the ongoing support shown by the Apii Nikao community, parents and agencies during this time of transition.

“Our learners and staff are extremely excited to be in the new building and considerable effort has gone into teaching and learning programmes to ensure the modern and innovative spaces are utilised to their fullest.”

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