Everyone knew that Pelican School was coming to an end – PM
THE ABSORPTION, this term, of students from the private Pelican School in Canouan into the public primary school is in keeping with stipulations of the Education Act, and an agreement with Investor Andrea Pignataro.
This is the position of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who expressed this at a press conference held at Cabinet Room last Friday, September 4.
He also explained that about five expatriate teachers attached to the Pelican School were denied the renewal of their work permits as the school can no longer exist within the bowels of the state school.
The Prime Minister was speaking amidst dissatisfaction and protest of parents of students attending the Pelican School, who were told that there will no longer be a Pelican School and that they should transfer their children to the Canouan Government School.
The Pelican School, owned by Canouan Resorts Development Holdings (CRDH), which is in turn owned by Investor Pignataro, is currently located on state property. On this property, Pignataro also funded the building of a modern school campus with a new public primary school, a library and computer lab, an auditorium, canteen and a secondary school. This modern campus partially opened in 2019.
Before moving to this space, the Pelican School (and Coral Reef Pre-School) were located on lands belonging to Dermot Desmond on the premises of the Glossy Bay Marina Limited (GBML). However, there was said to be a break down of the amicable relationship between the two investors, and a need for further development of the marina. Out of this break down there came a demand for the school to move.
Last Friday, the Prime Minister recalled that when a dispute arose between the investors, he decided: “I will play a role as being the balm of Gilead, and act with common sense.”
He noted that he had given Desmond the assurance that they are working with the Pignataro group and “there is an overall plan for the development of a school campus; give them a chance and then in due course, when we get that going, the Pelican school will move for the completion of a year at the structures where we are building.”
However, after the completion of the year, there’d be no such Pelican School.
“Because you can t have a private school inside of a state facility, and you can t have, in accordance with the Education Act, a school doing one syllabus in the Primary School and another one in the same compound doing our regular syllabus,” the Prime Minister told the press and those listening across various media.
The Pelican School teaches a Cambridge Curriculum.
“This conundrum which has arisen was the denial by the Government of the renewal of work permits for the persons, five ex-patriate persons, I think the number is five, who were teaching at the Pelican,” Gonsalves disclosed.
“Well if the Pelican School can’t exist, why am I giving you a work permit to teach at that school?” he continued.
“You can’t on one hand say the law and policy doesn’t permit it, and then I give you a work permit for that,” he noted.
The Prime Minister also read aloud an email that he sent to Pignataro last Thursday night, under the subject of school campus.
“I say the Government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines are grateful for your company’s investment in upgrading and expanding the school premises,” Gonsalves began. However, it continues that he has told Pignataro that Pelican School, “will not be permitted to operate within the school compound of the state.”
He said in the letter that this is according to law and policy, and accordingly no visas will be granted to the teachers so long as Pelican operates as a private school within the bowels of the state school.
He reiterated the fact that the Pelican offers a different curriculum.
Gonsalves also made the point that he has allowed the company to build and operate on state lands, a preschool away from the school compound of the state Primary and Secondary Schools, with the condition that this preschool is open to everyone and free of charge.
The Prime Minister then said that he reminded Pignataro in the email last week of a phone conversation between them on October 8, 2018, and an email sent on October 9, 2018, capturing what they had agreed upon in the phone conversation.
Gonsalves listed the first point of accord as being, “ 1) the school campus is for public education (a) it will have Primary and Secondary Schools for a total of 400 students (b) it will have IT lab, Science lab, a library and auditorium (c) there will be no private schools.”
Secondly, they are said to have agreed that the ‘Montessori’ Preschool will be open to all children, without a charge, and finally, “The Pelican School students will be allowed to complete the academic year in the new school campus to avoid disruption to their curriculum and then they will be absorbed in the public school.”
After rehashing these points of what he says is their 2018 accord, the Prime Minister said “the Government has followed all this in every material particular, now that a new school year begins, the students from Pelican are due to be absorbed in the public school.”
On the matter of when the parents of the students of the Pelican School were informed of this (one of the grievances of the protesting parents), the Prime Minister indicated that he did not know if they were informed in a direct way, but that the discussion has been ongoing. He said the Chief Education Officer, Elizabeth Walker, spoke to the Principal of the school, and he spoke about it in Parliament.
He added that everyone involved knew that the Pelican School would come to an end this term.
Nonetheless, parents involved in the protest last week were adamant that they need Pelican school, and that they were not going to transfer their children to Canouan Government School.
Despite this, the Ministry of Education issued a release last Thursday, September 3, stating, Residents of Canouan are kindly asked to make arrangements for their children to be registered at the Canouan Government School for the 2020/2021 academic year.