Problems persist in schools reopening


Tribune Staff Reporter

BAHAMAS Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson yesterday said there is still a “lack of information” regarding the strategy the Ministry of Education plans to employ to ensure that teachers and students are able to work in a safe environment as face-to-face classes resume in several islands.

In a statement over the weekend, the Ministry of Education said schools in New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma have been given permission to resume face-to-face instruction on Tuesday using the hybrid or blended model. Education officials also said while several schools will begin in-person instruction on the official launch date, some institutions will resume physical classes at a later date.

Yesterday Mrs Wilson told The Tribune that  the union is not certain about the health and safety protocols that have been specifically implemented for schools, as the Ministry of Education has “just generally said what the Ministry of Health will be doing”.

She also said 11 schools will not open in New Providence for face-to-face learning because of “incomplete school repairs”, or renovations that have not been addressed as yet. She said these factors have “impeded” teachers and students from getting back into the classrooms on their various campuses.

“We have C W Sawyer that needs major repairs,” she stated. “They were using a hall at one of the local churches, so they are unable to access their school. An alternative site must be identified if they are to return to face-to-face (classes).

“Then we have Stephen Dillet Primary School that has no windows. It’s fully air conditioned and we know that based on the COVID-19 protocols, you should be in a building that has proper ventilation. ... We are (also) monitoring Uriah McPhee and they have also devised a plan that the teachers, the students and the union believe can work. So, they have done a lot of protocols in preparation for the return of the teachers and students.”

She said there is also a “major concern” regarding students with special needs. She said educators working at special needs institutions across the country want to know if there is going to be a “special protocol” put in place for their students, who they believe “should not be expected to wear a mask in school from 9am-3pm”.

“So hopefully, the education officials will consider the special needs students having a different timetable than the other schools,” Mrs Wilson said. “There’s also a concern about a six-day timetable and going through school fully from 9am-3pm, especially if the schools do not have the proper material and equipment.”

Mrs Wilson said the union has also raised concerns about plexi-glass shields being placed in the classrooms to protect teachers. She said to their knowledge, no “type of barrier” has been installed in any of the schools to date.

She also said BUT has created a “health and safety protocol checklist” to ensure that schools have thermometers and proper signage on campus and to make certain that social distancing measures are being enforced in the various classrooms. She also said a team they have deployed will be checking to see if schools have access to the internet and if they have an allocated area that can be used as a sick bay for the “isolation of suspected COVID cases”.

She continued: “So Tuesday is really going to be a dry run to find out what is in place at the various schools for the face-to-face reopening and we will be monitoring all of the schools closely to ensure that there is a clean, safe working and learning environment for teachers and students.

“We’re hoping that we get a smooth start to the reopening of school face-to-face on Tuesday morning. It’s our hope that things will be in place, but as we speak generally, there is still a lack of information so hopefully in the Ministry of Education’s release, they may be able to clear up some of the uncertainty that still lingers with parents and teachers and students.”

According to the ministry, each school will inform parents and guardians of their respective reopening date. Students are also encouraged to check their school’s social media platforms for more detailed updates.

“Parents and guardians are also advised that, if necessary, they may visit their child’s school to speak with an administrator,” the statement read. “In order to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 virus, parents and guardians are asked to do the following: ensure that the body temperature is below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit; monitor for possible COVID-19 related symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell or taste, sore throat or a continual dry cough; ensure that each child has a face mask and if available, a personal hand sanitizer.”

The ministry said if the above-mentioned symptoms are evident in a student or faculty member, or if the person in question happens to have close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, the pupil or staff member will be required to remain at home and seek the appropriate medical advice.

Parents and guardians are also being asked to follow the recommendations and regulations being enforced at their child’s place of learning, to aid with the “safe return of students to their respective schools and to ensure that each school is able to manage their administrative and instructional functions”.

The press release continued: “The ministry looks forward to the cooperation of all stakeholders in this regard. The public is also informed that further details on the resumption of face-to-face instruction will be provided by the Ministry of Education at a press conference to be held at the ministry’s headquarters building on Monday afternoon at 3pm.”