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Catholic Edu Board recommends rapid Covid-19 testing in schools

Photo source: St Mary's College

As the Education Ministry prepares for physical reopening of schools with a blended learning approach, the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) has recommended the provision of rapid Covid testing at schools.

A statement sent to the Catholic News stated together with the vaccine rollout, regular testing is considered fundamental to the success of plans to reopen society and the economy and helping suppress and control the spread of variants.

“The CEBM recommends the introduction of rapid lateral flow tests (LFDs) for the Coronavirus (Covid-19) to our school system. One in three people with Covid-19 do not experience any symptoms and may be spreading the virus unwittingly. This may be even more so among schoolchildren.” Rapid testing will enable quick detection of cases and immediate isolation of positive cases.

The statement continued, “By making rapid tests available to everyone, more cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives, and keeping our schools functioning”.

The CEBM called the revised Guidelines “quite effective” and can be “an effective framework for the reopening schools in the September term on the condition that the required resources are provided in a timely manner”.

It has asked for additional information on resources to support the September reopening and provided the Ministry with a list of resources for attention. These included vacancies in teaching positions at all levels, need for substitute teachers when absenteeism occurs, additional personnel to supervise students and Information and Communications Technology technicians.

The statement said, “To maintain the character of the school, Denominational Boards must approve the substitute teacher selected for their Schools.”

Apart from personnel, the CEBM has flagged furniture and equipment, internet connectivity— “the bandwidth at many schools is insufficient to cope with the demand for virtual classes” and funding for Health, Safety and Environment materials.

Under “policy matters” the Board noted the Guidelines are silent on the treatment of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons (staff and students) and the teachers’ choice to work from home.

The CEBM has requested “access to up-to-date information” on the administrative (e.g., attendance records) and curriculum (e.g., what will be taught) requirements, resource materials to be provided to schools, and the logistical arrangements that are made.

The Education Ministry on August 13 announced that it was working with the Health Ministry to organise vaccination for eligible primary and secondary school students ages 12–18. Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said last Monday the process will no longer be by appointment but walk-in at 14 sites.

The Ministry’s Guidelines recommends vaccination of all willing staff, and students above 12 years based on vaccine availability and parental consent.

Universal masking was recommended for children from the age of two, “irrespective of vaccination status”. Schools will implement reduced onsite student population based on distancing protocols, previously determined, and communicated attendance schedules and the capacity of schools to provide adequate student supervision.

The proposal includes: the establishment of Education District Health Units with on-call nurses for advice on medical emergencies and a doctor who liaises directly with the Health Ministry to disseminate information, arrange for vaccination, testing, contact tracing and other medical needs of staff and students; expedited Covid-19 testing and results for school personnel, facilitated by the Unit.

Also proposed was the introduction of methods to determine and cater for learning loss including: adjusted curriculum, adaptive online literacy and numeracy solutions, online tutoring, and diagnostic testing.

—By Lara Pickford Gordon