20 Aug 2013

Poor maintenance delays opening of American Samoa schools

8:03 pm on 20 August 2013

The Department of Education in American Samoa says it is essentially trying to complete years worth of repair work, in the space of a few weeks, to get schools ready to open.

Last week the government put the start of the new school year back a week after health inspectors found unsanitary and unsafe conditions in a third of the territory's public schools.

And yesterday education officials announced the public schools on the main island of Tutuila will be shut for a further week, due to heavy rain hampering repair work.

The special assistant to the director of education, Dr. Amy Blizzard, spoke with Leilani Momoisea about what needs to be completed before the schools can open, and the school year begin.

AMY BLIZZARD: Most of them are repairs to a cafeteria, roof repairs, and construction of a new bathroom facility at one of our high schools and they're all scheduled to be completed by this week. We've had almost three days of very heavy rain which has delayed a lot of the construction work.

LEILANI MOMOISEA: I was just about to ask you that, why did you think you were going to open on Monday and have to delay again and is that mostly because of that rain?

AB: Yeah, the rain came right in the middle of trying to finish up these repairs and I think the report was, in the last few days we've received over seven inches of rain, which comes down very heavy here and causes a lot of flooding.

LM: From what I've heard parents don't really mind so much that their children aren't going to school because they want them to be in a safe environment but they are questioning why it took so long to actually get these checks done and get these repairs done when there was a long break.

AB: Yeah that's a very good point and we are happy too, the Department of Education and the Director has said that she welcomes the inspections and the findings that they've had from the Department of Health. We also wish that it had been over the summer so that we had a chance to make the repairs prior to the start of school. But what has happened with the change of administration is we have a renewed commitment on trying to fix the schools but what we find when we get out there is, and we all have known this for many years, is there have been quite a few years of deferred maintenance where we just haven't done the ongoing maintenance that needs to happen. It's partly a funding problem, it was resources, it was manpower, all of these things have kind of combined over the years so in many cases we're trying to make repairs that have been an ongoing issue for us very quickly and again we're glad that the Department of Health has brought all these issues to the table and part of that is because we do now have the support of the Governor and all of the agencies to make the necessary repairs. So it's a good thing we're all working towards the same goal and we kind of felt the same way too, we wish it had been earlier in the year but we'll work with it now despite that you know, we just want to move forward and get this fixed.

Dr. Amy Blizzard says weather permitting, the department is confident schools will be ready to open on the 26th of August.