By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Union of Teachers president Belinda Wilson believes schools should reopen in the coming weeks as planned but warned a comprehensive strategy must be implemented for the safety of all.
Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Mrs Wilson said the union has yet to receive a plan from the Ministry of Education.
However, union officials have been told the ministry continues to review how best to open schools.
“With schools in The Bahamas scheduled to re-open in approximately three weeks for teachers and the following week for students, the Bahamas Union of Teachers is cognizant of the rise in COVID-19 cases,” the BUT president said yesterday.
“Our position since March 2020 has not changed and we are firm in our views that schools must open but they must open safely.”
Mrs Wilson spoke after Education Minister Jeff Lloyd told The Tribune last month that officials have not yet made a decision as to how schools will reopen in September due to uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
Mr Lloyd assured the public that while schools will re-open, it’s too early to tell which instruction model will be used for the upcoming fall semester.
This comes as the country is experiencing another resurgence of cases and an increase in hospitalisations.
Yesterday, Mrs Wilson gave several recommendations and highlighted a number of safety protocols the union would like to see implemented to protect both students and faculty from COVID-19.
Suspected cases of COVID-19 have been reported in several schools, particularly in New Providence, over the course of the year. However, it is not clear how many schools have recorded cases since being re-opened and the number of infections confirmed.
The latest measures recommended by BUT include proper sanitisation of classrooms and a reduction of class sizes if the ministry chooses the face-to-face or blended learning model.
“Last year 2020 the Ministry of Education gave a few models for opening of schools for the then 2020/21 school year,” Mrs Wilson said. “Those were face-to-face, fully virtual or hybrid or blended model. Again, the Bahamas Union of Teachers reiterates the importance of safety first for our teachers and our students and our support staff.
“There must be clear safety protocols, class sizes must be decreased and there must be proper signage, adequate ventilation for classrooms, the use of masks, PPE’s (personal protective equipment) for teachers and the sanitisation of classrooms throughout the day.
“Adequate cleaning supplies must be provided for the janitorial staff and if the face-to-face model is going to be used, then six-,feet distancing must be implemented throughout the schools,” the BUT president added.
“The timetable and based on the allocation of periods for each subject must be reviewed. If the Ministry of Education is going virtual or using the hybrid or blended model, then it must utilise proper adequate technology.”
However, if the ministry chooses to take the virtual route, Mrs Wilson said all learning devices must be compatible with the public-school virtual learning platform.
“The tablets and technological devices that were loaned to students and teachers must be compatible with the learning management system. The Ministry of Education must guarantee reliable, adequate and virtual platform that is accessible to all students and teachers throughout the Bahamas.
“I would’ve written to (Ministry of) Education last week requesting the plans for the reopening of schools for August 2021/22 school year and I’m awaiting the information although education officials have acknowledged that they are reviewing the protocols, which they would’ve sent out to the union last year.
“So again, we stand by our position that schools should open, and they should open safely and the BUT should be clear on the protocols for the opening of the new school year August 2021.”
Schools across the country closed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but were reopened after the summer break last October.
However, schools in New Providence, Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma were only teaching virtually until given the go-ahead to begin phased face-to-face learning under a hybrid model in February.
In May, officials announced all public schools would return to virtual learning once again after cases started to climb again.
This year, it is expected that schools will re-open either late August or early September.
Last November, the Ministry of Education released its Strategic Plan for the Safe Reopening of Schools.
The 94-page report outlined procedures in the event of suspected cases and also detailed guidelines for parents and all levels of school staff to follow from pre-arrival to departure from campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.