Across the country, parents are looking ahead to the next school year – and worrying. Having already dealt with children at home through the lockdown, the concern now is what comes next? Will schools be able to deal safely with children once more?
For some, that future concern is a present one – those families whose children sat examinations yesterday in the first day of BJC and BGCSE sittings.
It does not appear to have gone well, judging by what Bahamas Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson has to say.
Let’s move past the claims of ministry officials being late to some schools and some examinations starting late, at least for now. The big concern facing parents and students across the country is safety within schools, and on that count we appear to be falling short.
Mrs Wilson pointed out a number of concerns – such as desks not being placed six feet apart, classrooms that had not been cleaned, “little to no social distancing”, and workers not wearing masks.
If this is true, we would expect Minister of Education Jeff Lloyd to be furious at the failure to ensure children are protected.
For months, we have been staying at home, wearing masks when we go out, washing our hands, and following all the instructions to prevent the spread of the virus.
As the Prime Minister warned us of the dangers of the virus, as he even closed down the beaches again just last weekend, what was the Ministry of Education doing to ensure that students would be as safe as possible when they arrived to do their examinations yesterday?
It sounds as if there were other muddles too – over training and communication with invigilators, contact with students, co-ordination of volunteers. All of those are major issues, just as the late-starting exams are major issues too, but the biggest of all is student and staff safety.
Just as students faced their big test, so too did the Ministry – and it failed.
There is great concern among families across the country about school safety. Already, parents are starting to receive letters from schools setting out plans for next semester. If schools cannot manage social distancing with only examination students returning, how will they manage when all the students do?
Indeed, where is the guidance from the ministry to schools for how to deal with thousands of students returning to schools? For both government and private schools, that guidance is crucial to a safe reopening – and to reassure parents over whether their children will be safe once the doors do open again.
Mrs Wilson says she hopes that for the sake of our nation’s youth that the Ministry gets its act together. We would say it needs to go a good deal beyond hope – this is literally a matter of life and death.
Keep it fair all round
A very curious exemption has emerged to the COVID-19 emergency powers.
The chairman of the Myers Group, George Myers, asked for permission for his restaurant group to stay open later. Fair enough, no harm in asking.
Peculiarly, though, the government said yes to just his group, sending a letter dated July 9 giving the approval for KFC, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and Anthony’s Caribbean Grill to remain open until 9pm, when businesses have in general been told to close by 8pm.
If the government thought that it was reasonable for such businesses to open until 9pm, it seems odd that they wouldn’t make a blanket change to the emergency powers so that it would apply to all, rather than one.
Indeed, the whole discussion over an extra hour here or there, or reduced access to this or that makes us again question what the reason is for each of these orders. If it’s safe to open an hour later, why weren’t we doing so in the first place? Why is it safe to open a restaurant that serves alcohol but not a bar? If we were given some glimpse into the reasoning behind these decisions, it might encourage people to abide by the rules - but Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis seems to be keen to avoid questions these days.
Instead, with the split between one restaurant’s opening hours and another, the government has opened itself to accusations of preferential treatment. Attorney General Carl Bethel tells us that an order has been prepared allowing all restaurants to remain open until 9pm, but as we write that has not been released. Mr Bethel’s office has been late in filing emergency orders recently, but this one is already four days later than the approval to a single operator.
Why one, and not another? And are there other approvals given to one business, but not their rivals? Come on, government, keep it fair all round.