By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Union of Teachers is again calling on education officials to release a clear plan on new school health and safety procedures that will allow for a safe return to the classrooms on islands that are still practising virtual learning.
The appeal came after Education Minister Jeff Lloyd told reporters on Wednesday his ministry is now eyeing February 22 for the resumption of face-to-face instruction in public schools across several islands still engaging in the virtual learning method.
Those include public schools on New Providence, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera.
“Our position is that we have to do it in a phased reopening,” Mr Lloyd said. “Some schools are going to be ready earlier than others, some as early as next week might be, some later and that’s on a number of factors, faculty readiness in terms of the environment as well as the repairs of the school.”
Yesterday, BUT president Belinda Wilson told The Tribune that union officials had already been informed that schools on the aforementioned islands will be reopening with face-to-face instruction soon.
However, she said the union was told that schools will actually re-open on February 23, a day after mid-term break is set to end.
Mrs Wilson also said that while the union supports the move, it wants to ensure proper procedures are in place. Saying the union needs more clarity, Mrs Wilson pointed to several safety protocols the union would like to see implemented to protect both students and faculty against the COVID-19 threat.
“What we are asking for are basic fundamental things to be done for us to return safely,” she said. “So, we’re asking for the desks in the classrooms to be no less than three feet apart. We’re asking for a barrier to be placed around teachers’ desks or workstations.
“What we’re also asking is once the students have been placed in each class, where will the overflow or additional students be placed? We want the schools to be cleaned, sanitized and disinfected. We’re asking for signage at the schools that are children friendly or school age appropriate.
“We need to know for sure what is the protocol on the use of masks at school and have the provisions been made as yet? Are the PPEs, hand sanitizers, gloves, gowns are they presently at the schools? We need to know if there is a new schedule for breaks.
“Do all of the classrooms now have proper ventilation? Have provisions been made for students who are in special schools? Have thermometers been placed in the schools for the checking of temperatures? Has every school identified an area to be utilised as a sick bay?
“All of these things need clear procedures. We are over a week away from supposedly opening schools but parents, teachers and students, the union is not in possession of timely and clear information so everyone is still wondering what are the plans and how should the process and procedures work?”
The union also questioned the ministry’s plan for the blended learning method, a model that officials said will be adopted for some schools that have large student enrollment.
“We are still uncertain as to which schools that have adequate internet access that will be able to accommodate teaching and learning while you’re on the hybrid method or mode,” Mrs Wilson said.
In-person classes ended in March 2020 after the country recorded its first COVID-19 case. Although several Family Islands have since resumed face to face classes, public school students in New Providence, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera are still restricted to virtual lessons.
The Tribune understands that some Abaco teachers are not anxious to return to the classroom due to COVID-19 fears. Basic necessities like consistent running water and power continues to be an issue for residents in the community, who are still recovering from Hurricane Dorian a year later.
As of Wednesday, the island has recorded a total of 222 infections, but it is not clear how many of those cases are still active.
Yesterday, the BUT president told The Tribune that the union is aware of the teachers’ concerns.
Mrs Wilson said: “They are concerned about the rising numbers of COVID cases over the last few weeks so at present they are working from home. I’ve already communicated with the district superintendent.
“It is a matter that the district superintendent and the persons of the union and education will watch closely. So, if it’s coming closer to the time when schools are to reopen face to face, then there will have to be other arrangements made because safety is first and foremost for us.”