BUT president Belinda Wilson.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
A PLANNED sit-out of public school teachers could disrupt the resumption of national exams today as educators look to protest the readiness of their institutions for COVID-19.
Teachers will call in today and say they will not be attending work, according to Bahamas Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson.
“For many months the Bahamas Union of Teachers has urged the Ministry of Education to present a reopening plan and sit with the Bahamas Union of Teachers so that we can have input,” she told The Tribune yesterday.
“We had two meetings on August 24 and 26 with an accumulation of 13 hours discussing the plan with the union and giving recommendations, most of which were ignored.
“So a straw poll was taken among teachers on their campuses by the shop stewards and the majority of teachers voted in favour of industrial action. So Monday will be dubbed ‘call in support teacher a COVID-19 day’.
“Teachers throughout The Bahamas will call in (saying) ‘I will not be in attendance today.’ Some teachers in Grand Bahama and the Family Islands will wear union colours and union t-shirts in support and solidarity for the action. Teachers want the Ministry of Education to know that ‘teachers’ lives matter’ and we stand in solidarity.”
Mrs WIlson’s comments came after the Ministry of Education released a statement encouraging teachers not to be persuaded by her “antagonistic pronouncements.” The ministry accused her of trying to deprive children of the chance to learn while insisting schools are safe and that protocols mandated by the Ministry of Health and the Department of Environmental Health for handling COVID-19 infections are being followed.
“The Ministry of Education categorically refutes public assertions by Mrs Belinda Wilson the President of the Bahamas Union of Teachers that there are unsafe conditions in Ministry of Education schools due to the presence of persons with COVID-19 infections in several of those schools,” the ministry said. “These assertions are designed to create public panic among teachers, students and parents in pursuit of the BUT president’s selfish goal of derailing the national examinations, which are to be held from Monday, 14th September – Friday, 2nd October, due to her personal opposition to them.
“…The ministry is deeply aggrieved by the fact that the BUT President would seek to deprive children of this vital opportunity, and while this behaviour is not unexpected, it is particularly regrettable that such action would be taken at a time when we should all be pulling together as a country to advance national development in the midst of the worldwide COVID crisis. The ministry therefore assures the general public, including educators, staff, parents and students sitting the national examinations, that all Ministry of Education facilities and schools, including those being utilized for the national examinations, are safe, and that persons need not fear for their safety.”
“…the Ministry of Education hereby confirms that while there have been reported cases of persons with COVID 19 infections at a few MOE schools, those premises were vacated and were subsequently cleaned and sanitized by Environmental Monitoring and Risk Assessment Division (EMRAD) certified COVID 19 cleaning teams, in accordance with the Department of Environmental Health requirements, and are safe for all persons to occupy, including, where applicable, for the administration of national examinations, beginning on Monday, 14th September. The public is also reminded that in compliance with Ministry of Health protocols, persons who may have been exposed to a confirmed COVID individual are required to undergo COVID 19 testing, and to submit to quarantine conditions, which then removes such persons from contact with the general public.”
Mrs Wilson, nonetheless, claimed schools restarted on September 7 with campuses unprepared for the reopening. She said some classrooms were not cleaned and that janitorial staff were not given protective equipment or adequate training. She said schools were not given sufficient hand sanitizers, a claim the ministry rejects.
“Most egregious is the fact that the Ministry of Education gave teachers tablets that were incompatible with the Zoom platform so they could not be used,” she claimed. “Many teachers were crammed in classrooms and computer labs many as five of them sharing one computer device without social distancing protocols being followed. Very concerning is that in several schools suspected positive cases of COVID-19 or persons who were exposed to COVID-19 positive persons were at school among their colleagues and peers before they were made aware.”
She said there are COVID-19 concerns at Columbus Primary, DW Davis Junior High, CI Gibson Senior High, Sybil Strachan Primary, Stapledon School and North Long Island High School.
“The increase of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks is alarming and there is no testing for teachers and or students,” she said. “We have so many teachers who are still uncertain as to where they can get tested.”