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Teachers At Odds Over Numbers On 'Sick Out'

BUT president Belinda Wilson.

BUT president Belinda Wilson.

By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net 

ABOUT 1,000 teachers across the country called in sick yesterday in protest over what they described as a lack of COVID-19 health and safety protocols at schools, according to Bahamas Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson.

Her comments came hours after education director Marcellus Taylor told The Tribune that national examinations were not disrupted and in fact “went well”, despite several teachers calling in sick.

“From what we know at this point, we didn’t have any challenges at this time,” Mr Taylor told The Tribune early yesterday afternoon.

“All of our exams apparently started on time and no incident to report, so we are happy at this point that that’s how the day developed so far. We have very confident school administrators and teachers who execute this process.”

Asked how many teachers did not show up for work yesterday, Mr Taylor said he could not say at the time, only telling this newspaper that “the numbers are not huge”.

“What I’m being told in New Providence where some of the schools you have 70 or 80 teachers, maybe five or six called in sick,” he said. “But I don’t have the actual (figures) but I’m just telling you that’s the kind of thing I’ve heard and because the operations of the schools are largely going on as normal, I get the sense that it hasn’t been a challenge at this point.”

However, Mrs Wilson yesterday claimed that some 1,000 teachers nationwide had not reported to work.

“We had about 1,000 teachers throughout the Bahamas call in today,” she said. “The teachers exhibited solidarity and care for their colleagues in schools. The union is very concerned about the health and safety of teachers and the Ministry of Education must make sure that schools are properly prepared for COVID-19 environment.”

The planned public sit-out comes as teachers call for more COVID-19 safety protocols to be implemented at their respective schools.

There have been concerns in recent weeks about possible COVID-19 exposure at several schools in the country, with Mrs Wilson saying that schools were unprepared for reopening on September 7. While teachers have been reporting to work, classes for students do not resume until October 5.

The union president also claimed that some classrooms were not cleaned and that janitorial staff were not given protective equipment or adequate training.

The ministry has since rejected the claims, accusing Mrs Wilson of trying to deprive children of the chance to learn.

Education officials have also insisted that all 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.

Mrs Wilson said the union is also concerned about COVID-19 exposure at several schools in the country.

“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.

“The increase of COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks is alarming and there is no testing for teachers and or students. We have so many teachers who are still uncertain as to where they can get tested.”

In a statement released yesterday, opposition spokesperson Education, Dr Michael Darville said the political party was “deeply concerned about the chaos in the public-school system” and called on the education minister to meet with the union to resolve the issues.

“The PLP calls on the minister of education to set aside ego and sit with the BUT executives in good faith with a view to ironing out and resolving the occupational health and safety issues that so concern educators that they find it necessary to take such drastic measures, negatively impacting the education of thousands of our students.”

National exams resumed yesterday after being disrupted and postponed earlier this year.

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