A structural collapse that sent a teacher at Joseph Gomez Elementary School to the hospital Monday morning involved a portion of a balcony ceiling which tore loose in a building located near the rear of the campus, according to Government House.
Classes were in session and the teacher was walking between two classrooms when the incident occurred. The injured teacher was taken by ambulance from the scene and no students were injured. [See related links below)
"We will get to the bottom of what caused this incident to occur and what steps are needed to repair the affected areas," Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in a statement praising school staff and first responders who who assisted the injured teacher and moved students from two floors of classrooms to safety.
DeJongh went to the school and spoke to parents and guardians at mid-morning after being briefed by emergency response officials.
"I truly understand the wave of emotions everyone with children at the school is experiencing. As a parent, I know the reaction is to come and get your children and go home but I am assuring you that all our students are safe, they are being accounted for and we hope to resume classes if not today, by tomorrow,” deJongh told about 200 or so parents who had streamed to the school having heard news of the incident, according to Government House.
The damaged building houses three classrooms. A team of contractors and engineers were called in to to survey the damage and determine the cause of the collapse.
“At this point, we are grateful that no harm came to any of our students, and our thoughts and prayers are with the teacher as she recovers at the Schneider Regional Medical Center," acting Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory said in a statement. "Our Human Resources Director, Mrs. Zenile Hodge, spent much of the afternoon at the hospital, and reported that the teacher is still receiving treatment for her injuries and is in the process of recovering.”
Frett-Gregory said her next step is dealing with the actual structural damage on campus. She said there was no damage to or inside any classroom.
Monday afternoon she spoke with with Public Works Commissioner Daryl Smalls, "who sent a team of engineers out to the school to access the integrity of the ceiling above the walkways in the building,” she said. “Based on the review, we will be replacing the roofing in the walkways and will be moving ahead quickly with the repairs along with Public Works.”
Frett-Gregory thanked some parents at the scene for their patience, but had some criticism for parents who grabbed their children without allowing the school to do a headcount first.
“While I do not condone the behavior of those who stormed in, grabbed their children and left without allowing administrators to do a proper headcount, I also saw many who stood by and listened to the administrators, faculty and officers as they waited patiently to get to their children,” she said. “We know that in situations like this, it is natural for a parent to be concerned about their child’s safety – but we need everyone’s cooperation to make sure things go smoothly, that every child is accounted for, and that they get home safe and sound," she said.
The school district is putting a plan in place for the students whose classrooms are affected, according to St. Thomas-St. John Superintendent Jeanette Smith-Barry.
"They will have to be relocated to another area on campus – and we will continue to provide the counseling necessary for any student as long as it’s needed," Smith-Barry said. "We recognize this is a traumatic event, and we want to make sure the students’ emotional needs are met so they can settle back in and get back to learning. We also want to ask for support and patience from our Joseph Gomez parents as we continue to work out the details; we thank you for your cooperation today, and hope that you will continue to work with the staff as we look at the future plans for the building and the campus as a whole.”
Counselors were brought to the school to meet with students and staff who witnessed the collapse of the roof structure, according to Government House.