By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MEETING was called yesterday at the Ministry of Education after a series of private schools reported cases of COVID-19.
Since Monday, private schools including St Anne’s, St John’s and Jordan Prince William have all closed their doors temporarily due to positive cases of COVID-19 on the campus – with St Anne’s and St John’s closing for a 14-day period. They will be relying on virtual learning in the interim.
When contacted yesterday, Director of Education Marcellus Taylor said there was a meeting held earlier between the ministry and officials from private schools.
“This morning (Tuesday) the Ministry of Education facilitated a meeting with the independent schools and the Ministry of Health to talk about managing COVID and to go over certain things to make sure people are clear on any procedural matters and for them to raise questions on any challenges they have,” Mr Taylor said.
“We try to support them, but every case has to be dealt with based on its own circumstances and its own situation.”
There are also concerns about reported cases affecting students at Windsor School in Old Fort Bay.
The Tribune reached out to Dr Mark Ott, Windsor’s principal, but was told he was in a meeting.
A school representative was asked about COVID cases there and said, “Thank you for calling, I will not be able to deny or confirm that.”
However, The Tribune obtained a letter sent from Dr Ott to parents last week. “Today we learned that an asymptomatic student in grade six has had a positive antigen test for COVID-19,” the letter noted. “This student was present in school yesterday, Monday, April 19, and is currently in quarantine at home. The student also has a sibling in grade seven. “These students will be PCR tested and will report the results to the school.
“Out of an abundance of caution, beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, April 21, all students in grade six and grade seven are required to remain home and attend classes remotely (online) until further notice, pending the results of these students’ PCR tests.”
Another letter sent to parents yesterday from Windsor said two additional grade six students who were last in school last week Tuesday have also tested positive for COVID-19.
“These are two new cases,” the school’s most recent letter noted. “We wish those students and their families continued good health as they quarantine and isolate at home.
“We have had four positive tests for COVID-19 (PCR test) in the same grade six class. Two siblings of one of those grade six students have also tested positive. None of these students have been in school since Tuesday, April 20. Both grade six and grade seven went online Wednesday, April 21.”
The school said grade six and grade seven students with a negative PCR test returned for
in-person instruction as of yesterday, as long as they had not been in close contact with the newly reported cases since Monday, April 19.
Asked if the Ministry of Education monitors what private schools do in regards to dealing with COVID-19, Mr Taylor explained the process.
“Some schools have elected to close down after only one case being reported on their campus,” he said. “Other schools are using the approach that is used by the Ministry of Education which is to manage the situation. For instance for us, if a student or a teacher are in one class and test positive, we would not necessarily close down the whole school.
“We would identify the person involved and let the Surveillance Unit know. They will then interview people or ask questions and then make a determination on what ought to happen and we follow what they say. The protocols that we have in place, I think most private schools use them. The main operative in this would be the Surveillance Unit because once a case of COVID-19 is reported then the Surveillance Unit will determine who would be considered a contact of the positive case.”
Mr Taylor made it clear that the buck should stop with the Ministry of Health’s Surveillance Unit.
“People can second guess everything if they wish but the point of the matter is that the Surveillance Unit has a way to determine who is a contact and who is not,” he said. “Not because you are in the same environment with someone at one point in time means that you are automatically a contact.
“So the protocols that have been put in place in terms of wearing the masks, the three feet spacing of the desks, the children all facing one way and also how people move around on the campuses when on breaks and level of direct contact that a persons has will all be factored in for the Surveillance Unit to make their determination.”
There have also been cases in government schools.
Last week, education officials said health officials have not reported the existence of any cluster of cases in the public education system nor any connection between the positive cases identified, which are in different institutions.
At the time, officials said five individuals — students and staff members — tested positive in New Providence over the past two weeks.