Back to the Canteen, issue resolved

SUNGAI BULOH - The issue of a primary school here making pupils eat in a changing room has been resolved, with the canteen reopening today.

"The canteen will be reopened tomorrow (today). The changing rooms had been used along with the canteen by all pupils since March because the canteen can only seat 500 to 600 people whereas SK Seri Pristana has 1,300 pupils," said Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan.

The Hulu Selangor MP added that due to renovation works at the canteen which began two weeks ago, all pupils were asked to eat in the changing room.

"This is because the teachers were concerned that the kids might get hurt during the renovation," he told a press conference at the school canteen. Troubleshooting mission: Kamalanathan (centre) visiting SK Seri Pristana in Sungai Buloh following the public outcry over the use of the changing rooms as a makeshift canteen.

The renovation, now complete, was to install glass doors for the teachers' section of the canteen.

Kamalanathan said the school had applied for an allocation from the ministry to extend the canteen.

"I will be making a personal contribution of RM10,000 (S$4,000)" he said. He signed a cheque for that amount on the spot.

Kamalanathan said that he would ensure that the canteen was enlarged by the end of Ramadan.

He added: "As far as we are concerned, the issue is resolved. The headmaster had good intentions but chose a poor location. He has apologised. I too apologise. It won't happen again. The ministry took immediate action on this case and we will conduct spot checks on other schools.

Kamalanathan agreed that Seri Pristana had not complied with school facility guidelines.

He later told The Star that schools had the discretion to close their canteens if they feel the need to do so.

Canteens are directly managed by the schools themselves, he said.

"If schools decide to close their canteens, for whatever reason such as renovation or repair works, they can set up a temporary canteen.

"But I cannot stress enough that the temporary premises must be at a hygienic location with facilities similar to a proper canteen.

"Schools can also appoint temporary canteen operators on a contract basis if their regular canteen operator is unable to work," he said in a text message.

Education Ministry deputy director-general (education operations sector) Datuk Sufa'at Tumin said the contracts for school canteens are solely between canteen operators and the schools.

"Schools should also give parents early notice if their canteens are to close temporarily so that parents can make the necessary arrangements (for their children's meals)," he said when contacted.

In a statement yesterday, Educa­tion director-general Tan Sri Abd Ghafar Mahmud said an investigation conducted by the Selangor education department on Tuesday found that the changing room had been functioning as a break room since March.

"The ministry feels that the school's decision to use the changing room was appropriate as the school's canteen could not accommodate that many pupils.

"Additionally, the canteen was closed for the month of Ramadan due to upgrading work.

"The investigation also found that the changing room was used by all pupils and teachers, not just by non-Muslim pupils," he added.

Meanwhile, outside the school, a group of people from PKR Selangor gathered shouting slogans like tangkap guru besar! and telling officials to "shut up".

There was a minor altercation when the crowd insisted on being allowed into the school compound.

School staff finally let five PKR representatives into the compound to survey the makeshift canteen.

The same group later harassed the deputy minister with vulgar epithets.