BUT president Belinda Wilson.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
BAHAMAS Union of Teachers President Belinda Wilson says she hasn’t given much credence to Education Minister Jeff Lloyd’s expectation that face-to-face learning at public schools will begin by February 2021.
Earlier this week, Mr Lloyd told reporters that education officials were looking at somewhere around early February for in person learning, with institutions in New Providence and Abaco likely to start with “blended learning” environments.
However, last month, the minister said schools could reopen before year’s end.
The differing estimates as to when schools will resume in person instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic highlight that education officials offer much “rhetoric but little action,” Mrs Wilson said yesterday.
“The Ministry of Education sent a strategic plan for the reopening of schools to the union so we have a copy of the plan,” the BUT president said of the plan released last month.
“However, I’m not giving much credence to the utterances of the minister of education as it relates to the reopening of schools because the decision is predicated on the advice and on the approval of the Ministry of Health and the medical professionals.
“I must say that the minister has a lot of rhetoric but the Ministry of Education and/or the Department of Education has not backed up their rhetoric. That’s why I said earlier that I’m not giving much credence to his utterances. We will wait to hear from the Ministry of Health and the medical professionals as it relates to the opening of schools because a lot of the things that the minister would have stated prior that would happen at schools or for the reopening of schools have not yet materialised.”
The union’s list of what is needed is extensive.
According to Mrs Wilson, the BUT ultimately will not feel comfortable about the resumption of face-to-face learning until proper safety measures are put in place at all schools.
“Our expectation is that prior to the opening of schools, especially on New Providence and Abaco, that schools will be properly prepared with the proper safety protocols in place,” she said.
“We’ve been asking for months and months for PPEs for our teachers, especially those at the pre-schools or lower primary level, which is your grade one or two and three or your K4, K5. Those students like to hug and touch so the teachers I think should have PPEs (personal protective equipment).
“They need to ensure that masks are available for students, teachers, parents and even other staff members or visitors who may come to the school without a mask.
“We want to ensure that the schools are clean, sanitized and disinfected prior to thousands of children going on to these various campuses.
“Children and teachers need to ensure that proper signage is there. Also, social distancing so the six feet markers are on the ground. That those distances are on the ground and it is upheld in the classrooms.
“Officials further need to make sure that teachers have a barrier, plexiglass or some sort of barrier, at their desks or workstations and we need to make sure there is a sick bay area allocated for persons who may feel sick or show symptoms. The schools need to be outfitted and equipped with thermometers for temperatures to be checked and we need to identify who is going to check because the teachers are not medical professionals and we are not nurses.
“We need to also make sure that the school administrators and the teachers are aware of who are the medical personnel, the doctors or nurses who may be attached to each school and you must have contacts for them in case there is an emergency.
“I believe even now without having the vaccine available in the Bahamas as yet, there should be free COVID-19 testing made available for teachers and students who choose to be tested.”
Last week, schools were given the nod to return to face-to-face learning by the competent authority, so long as the school has received permission to do so from the Ministry of Education along with consultation with the Ministry of Health, and subject to conditions by education officials.