With only 22 students, Tower Hill Primary faces closure
Students at the Tower Hill Primary School in St Andrew say they are in limbo because they are yet to be told if the school will be closed ahead of the next school year.
Principal Eulett Marshall told The Gleaner that the school is anticipating the closure, given the drastic decline in the number of students over the years. The school has a total of 22 students, five of whom sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) this year.
"I understand what they have said - because of the low population, we will have to close - but I am concerned about the children who live very far [and have] to travel with no public transportation. That is the greatest concern," she said.
The uncertainty has also concerned Marshall.
"It (the closure) is likely for September. We have not heard anything concrete saying that it will be. All we are hearing is that it is likely to be closed."
Marshall said the lack of a concrete closure date has also been a concern for parents.
"The parents understand the whole thing, but their point is that they were not given enough time to plan for it because they have been told [that the closure] is 'likely'. They want to hear that it is September, so that they would have made preparation from before, and they would have liked to get that information from early," she added.
Pointing to the socio-economic conditions in the community of Tower Hill, Marshall said most of the parents cannot afford the cost associated with transportation to send their children seven miles away to Mt Fletcher Primary School, the nearest alternative.
"I am sure some of those children will not be going to school regularly, because even at Tower Hill, if they don't have any lunch, they can come to school just the same and they would get their lunch. Now, [if] they are going to Mt Fletcher, it calls for added expense for the parents," she said.
The principal, who is set to go on retirement leave in light of the impending closure, noted that most of the parents are coffee farmers who have been hit hard by recent fires in east rural St Andrew and the current drought.
Opposition spokesperson on education and youth, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, while not speaking specifically to the Tower Hill situation, has raised concerns about planned closures.
In a release to the media, she said: "Some schools which I understand are being considered for closure are close to students' homes and communities, and if they are closed, the children will have to travel miles away to the nearest primary school. This will not only create additional costs for parents, but runs counter to the recently announced policy of the ministry to place GSAT students in institutions close to their homes to remove travel costs from reasons of absenteeism."