Scores of guidance counsellors, special education teachers and school social workers are facing a bleak first day of school as they have not been paid for the past two months.
The three categories of workers fall under the Students Support Services of the Ministry of Education and are responsible for the emotional well-being of students at both primary and secondary schools in the country. The special education teachers are responsible for physically challenged children and those with learning disabilities.
The workers are calling on the Minister of Education to pat their salaries, saying they have completed their tasks.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a guidance counsellor told Newsday it would be very difficult to counsel and comfort students when they themselves are facing severe economic hardships.
One counsellor said she had four children of school age and she was unable to purchase text books for her children to go to school.
“Right now I am focusing on getting some copy books, book bags, pens and pencils and shoes, just the bare necessities,” she said. “At least they have the old uniforms but textbooks will have to wait.”
The counsellor said some of her colleagues were, literally, hiding from their landlords as they were unable to pay their rents. She said a number of them had mortgages and when the salary cheques finally arrived the banks put a hold on them.
“So every month is a nightmare,” she said, adding that it was not just a one-off situation.
She said on a regular basis they had to wait for several months to get their salaries. She said they were owed for the months of June, July and August but were paid last week for June.
“But how are we expected to function?” she asked. “Is the ministry aware of the high level of delinquency and problems faced by children in schools?
“Are they aware of what we face on a daily basis? Even in the primary schools, it is not easy.
“We have children who come from homes where they are being sexually molested, beaten, and subjected to all kinds of negative situations.
The distraught counsellor continued, “When we have to focus on our own problems, like how we are going to put food on the table and take care of our children, how can we focus our attention on these youngsters who desperately need help when every month is a roller-coaster ride to see whether we will be paid or not?”
Calls to Minister of Education Anthony Garcia as well as Minister in the Ministry of Education Dr Lovell Francis went unanswered.