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Parents Jam Cancryn Cafeteria to Express Concerns

Jan. 19, 2005 – The Addelita Cancryn Junior High School cafeteria was packed with about 75 parents, children and teachers Wednesday evening. The rain did not keep them away; the parents had a purpose; they were there to discuss their children's continuing education at a school that is fast losing credibility.
For the past two days, teachers have held two-hour walkouts on the campus to call attention to the school's critical problems. Wednesday night's gathering was a hastily called emergency Parent Teachers Association meeting.
Art teacher, Leba Ola-Niyi and Rochelle Jackson-Todman, a physical education teacher, both union representatives led the meeting, which was before long taken over by the parents. Ola-niyi said the parents had to speak out for what they want, and they needed no further encouragement as one after another couldn't wait to make their concerns heard.
Chrys Petersen said she was concerned about the physical plant, "seeing things falling from the ceiling." She said, "OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] should have a look at it."
She's also concerned, she said, about the level of staffing, security and dealing with the older, discipline challenged students who've been mainstreamed into the junior high school where she said some of them have robbed and beaten up Cancryn students.
The older students were supposed to be sent to another alternative school when New Horizons – the previous alternative school – closed. The students have various behavioral problems.
Ola-Niyi told the gathering that there would be a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. between Cancryn principal Yvonne Pilgrim, Lt. Govenor Vargrave Richards, Education Commissiner Noreen Michael and Deputy Insular Superindendent of Schools Emily Carter. Pilgrim and Carter sat in on Wednesday's meeting.
Asked by parent Randall Thomas, what their would their demands would be of the administration in the meeting tomorrow, what would be the minimum they would accept, Ola-Niyi gave a list of priorities, and the parents added to it. They are:
– a timetable for construction of the burned out classrooms.
– adequate telephone service.
– water pressure in the western end of school where toilets must currently be flushed with buckets of water.
– over-age students.
– repairing the overpass bridge.
– hiring a permanent crossing guard.
As the evening wore on other items were added and removed from the list. One suggestion of a public address system had to be discarded because Pilgrim explained it couldn't be installed until the building was reconstructed.
But the overall concerned expressed by parents Wednesday night was the safety of their children.
Other parents agreed, and asked if they should send the kids tomorrow. Ola-Niyi said he couldn't answer that because a teacher cannot tell students to stay home. There was a chorus asking Carter to speak up on the issue, but she remained mum.
Pilgrim said later that it wouldn't be possible to state the children had to stay home Thursday because there was no means Wednesday night of contacting all the teachers. The teachers present Wednesday, about a dozen or so, had indicated that if their demands weren't met at the meeting Thursday they would not go back to their classrooms.
Most parents said they would keep their children home Thursday. "I can't be getting these calls at work to come pick up my child," one parent said.
The teachers encouraged parents to attend Thursday's meeting. And the parents encouraged other parents to attend. "Be strong tomorrow," said Michelle Roberts, mother of two students. "Don't be emotional; we'll state our case and be strong."
Roberts reminded the gathering of a lawsuit which had been necessary to build a prison. "We're more important than that," she said. As the meeting gathered steam, several of the parents said they would join a lawsuit taking the government to court, should it come to that.
Pilgrim addressed the crowd. "Our youth should be given the opportunity to learn in the best environment," she said. "I can understand what a devastating loss the classrooms have been for our teachers and our children. I would have been happy if the classrooms could have been ready in January for the marking period."
In reference to the walkout, she said, "No matter what the situation, the students are the losers when they have to miss school. We've reached the point where the teachers are pushed over the edge. In 1995 we suffered damage in Hurricane Marilyn, and nothing has been done. You know, you have to wonder. We need to put aside politics. We need to build the school up or tear it down."

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