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Ministry, education interest groups discuss schools’ reopening measures

By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Email: snrwriter.camsel@catholictt.org
Twitter: @gordon_lp

Education interest groups met with officials of the Education Ministry led by Minister Anthony Garcia on Tuesday, July 21 on issues related to the reopening of schools on September 1.

The meeting was attended by the National Advisory Committee on Education, Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, National Primary Schools Principals Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, Association of Denominational Boards of Education (ADBE) and others.

A release from the Education Ministry stated, “As participants discussed concerns and gave suggestions on the new normal come September, the Ministry and the stakeholders were able to effectively ventilate the realities of the day-to-day operations of a school in the new academic year.”

Among the topics covered in the discussion were: teacher training, physical distancing, rotation of students, home-based learning, and the Ministry of Health guidelines.  At the end of the meeting agreement was reached that the National Advisory Committee would collect all suggestions for further discussion.  On Tuesday, August 4 the release stated “a final document will be presented for review on all educational matters related to COVID-19”.

It reported, “Arising from the meeting, was resounding praise for the teachers, principals, parents and various groups/individuals who contributed to all schools being able to resume operations on Monday 20th July 2020”.

The Association of Denominational Boards of Education, of which the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) is a member, submitted a list of issues and recommendations. The ministry on July 13 made public its guidelines for the reopening of schools. The issues highlighted by the ADBE encompassed personnel, equipment, infrastructure requirements.

Responding to the social distancing protocols, the association noted not all students can be accommodated at the same time and suggested “options for phased opening, rotation etc”. It asked for researched guidelines to be provided to principals.

Additional personnel were requested, e.g. on-the-job trainees or “floating teachers” to supervise students when teachers were on lunch or other breaks and as students arrived and left schools, and for district health nurses to be assigned to schools.

The Board also requested that provision be made for persons with high risk factors (teachers, ancillary staff and students). The ADBE asked for Health and Safety Officers to be provided to denominational schools as with government schools.

To fulfil the increased cleaning and sanitisation a recommendation was made for increased cleaners’ grant for additional cleaners and/or working extended hours. The denominational schools are also seeking increased sanitation and maintenance grants to cover the costs of materials for increased sanitisation and cleaning. Direct funding was also requested for additional “curriculum related expenses”.

Furniture was requested to accommodate social distancing where multi-seater desks are being used. The Ministry was asked to provide a suitable quantity of temperature readers and sanitisation stations that do not require a person to operate and to provide training manuals that include standard procedures e.g. detecting flu symptoms and differentiating from allergy symptoms. Personnel had to be identified for training to conduct daily temperature scans on staff and students before entry.

Schools without sufficient physical space to create a health screening room/sick bay/quarantine room may need additional temporary structures where space permits. Copies of the Health Ministry’s prescribed standards and procedures for cleaning and sanitisation of schools had also to be made available to Boards.

The need for effective and sustained communication with all major stakeholders was also recommended. The ADBE is a major stakeholder since the denominational Boards own and manage approximately 75 per cent of public primary schools.

The ADBE was awaiting feedback for its concerns and recommendations.