As Ministry of Education officials mull a return to classrooms in the new year following several disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the island’s largest teachers’ union is sounding a warning.
Pedro Shepherd, President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) told COVID Dispatch the union had not been officially notified of the reopening of schools, though there were several reports that the Ministry was considering such a proposal.
“I am hearing on the grapevine that we may be going back out in January, but I am not sure,” he said.
“If we are to go back out in January, I would just want to caution that we would want to be certain that the number of COVID cases we are seeing per day is significantly reduced, and that all schools and educational institutions be so equipped and outfitted that all the necessary health protocols can be observed.
“These would include whether it is the three-feet spacing or six-feet spacing for students, sanitizing on entering rooms and all during the day, including during bathroom breaks, lunch breaks, and playtime. And all these things must be monitored and the necessary sanitation be done,” Shepherd added.
The BUT president said ensuring the safety of students and teachers was a top priority of the union.
“If we must go back out in January, we the teachers and students will have to go, but only if we have the necessary protocols in place. It must be a safe return. We cannot return simply because people believe that the country should reopen or simply because people believe there are deficits in our children. We will return if the school plants are safe for our return,” he insisted.
Several schools, including the Daryll Jordan Secondary, Queen’s College, Blackman & Gollop Primary, Christ Church Foundation and Lester Vaughn Secondary are being used as isolation facilities for COVID patients requiring medical care.
“The case numbers would have to be significantly reduced so that those schools that are being used as isolation centres would be decommissioned and properly sanitized in time for a January start. But you cannot just simply say you are going to get the children back out in school in January because you need to have them educated,” Shepherd stressed.
“There are ways and means of having our students educated other than putting them in environments that are not safe for their health and the Ministry needs to explore all of those options.”
Earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Kenneth George revealed that public officials were “close” to deciding whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine for children ages five to 11 here, following clearance by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) for use for that age group in the United States.
The comments of the CMO came as General Secretary of the Barbados National Parent-Teacher Association (BNPTA), Nicole Brathwaite called for a comprehensive consultation with parents before COVID-19 vaccines are made available to children ages five to eleven.
Brathwaite stated: “I think that information coming from the pediatricians and so on would be a little more comforting rather than it coming from the BNPTA because that is their forte. Once it is safe and it has the support of the pediatricians and so on, we would encourage persons to make those informed decisions in the best interest of their children.”
The BNPTA head, who was in full support of a return to face-to-face classes for the island’s children, said there was a perceived negative impact of online classes. (IMC1)
This article appears in the November 12 edition of COVID Dispatch. Read the full publication here.