Two-week test for reopening of schools

October 29, 2020

Education Minister Fayval Williams has announced that starting November 9, face-to-face classes will resume under a two-week pilot programme, which, should it fail, would derail the phased reopening of schools.

Seventeen 'low risk' schools from nine parishes will be reopened for the test run, seeing5 875 students going back to school.

The test run, scheduled to expire on November 20, will facilitate 12 primary schools and five secondary institutions, across Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, Westmoreland, St Thomas and Trelawny. The ministry is currently consulting with principals and the selected schools.

Schools were chosen based on factors such as the total risk profile of the school and the community, with approval from the health ministry. A total of 73 schools with 58,542 students have been identified as low risk.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Andrew Holness says COVID is a threat to Jamaica's education system.

"The sense that I got from my principals was that they wanted to have the children back in their school. It pains their heart to see the children running up and down in the community, when they could easily be in the classroom," Holness said. "In doing so, we have to also ensure teachers are safe, that those with comorbidities can participate in the process without being physically present."

Williams cited the lack of connectivity and access to devices, the lack of online etiquette from some students, teachers and parents, and the challenges of safety in some homes as factors in the education ministry's decision.

"We've heard about the high electricity bills. We've heard the many complaints as well about how quickly the food in the fridge finishes and that happens when you have children at home for so many hours in the day," Williams said. But she cautioned those difficulties could continue if the pilot programme fails.

"You might very well have parents who know that their children are ill and still take them to school. These are the kinds of behaviours which will make it bad for everyone else, because if the pilot goes wrong, there's no way we could continue to reopen schools," Holness said.

Delivery of lessons via virtual classes, audio visual platforms, and learning kits will continue for other schools.

The education ministry has also asked that schools provide masks for students who lack them, and not to turn away students in masks that don't match their uniforms.

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