Teacher’s union calls for COVID testing before return to campus

Teacher’s union calls for COVID testing before return to campus

Union supports the return of face-to-face learning

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson indicated yesterday that while the union supports the return of face-to-face learning in public schools, with the proper measures to facilitate safety, teachers and students must be provided free testing prior to returning to campuses.

“Face-to-face is the preferred method, but in order for us to successfully transition to face-to-face teaching and learning, the Ministry of Education must be able to provide the matrix that determines the return to face-to-face instruction in public schools,” she told Eyewitness News.

“The BUT expects to be provided with formal communication. We are requesting free COVID-19 testing for all teachers and students prior to returning. Schools must be cleaned, sanitized and disinfected. Each school must be provided with hand sanitizer, masks and PPEs, especially for the preschools.”

Wilson said personnel must also be identified and charged with performing regular temperature checks on campus.

She also called for each school to establish a designated area as a sickbay to treat suspected cases or isolate individuals who have had a high-risk exposure to a suspected case.

Additionally, the union president called on education officials to ensure schools have proper signage for social distancing, plans for grouping of students at lunch, plexiglass installed at teachers’ workstations, reduced student numbers in classrooms and additional classroom space within the neighboring community.

Last week, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said a return to face-to-face learning in schools with all health protocols is imminent.

He said the health team has advised education officials a return to traditional learning amid the pandemic is possible and meetings were ongoing to “bring our children back to school as quickly as possible, observing all of the protocols”.

However, the minister suggested larger schools such as Sadie Curtis Primary School, Doris Johnson, Anatol Rodgers and C.V. Bethel, may be required to adopt hybrid models of learning.

Wilson said: “Even when you are at school on a day-to-day basis, there must [be] an adjustment to break and lunch times.

“We need to look at which grade levels will be coming to schools and will it be the entire school or just [certain] grade levels, and which days are they going to come?

“…We may have to look at early or staggered dismissals.”

Yesterday, the BUT president said the school timetable, curriculum and end-of-year exams must also be reviewed and adjusted accordingly.

An estimated 30 percent of students registered for virtual learning have not been actively participating, according to education officials.

To this, Wilson suggested the figure could be much larger.

She expressed concerns about the potential learning gap ahead of exams.

“That poses many challenges not only for the students, but also for teachers,” she said.

“In fact, the ministry is planning to have examinations beginning in schools December 2.

“Well, how can you administer exams if the content is not taught, if the syllabus is incomplete and if students have not been registered and attending schools?

“If we take the ministry’s number of 30 percent, you are talking about thousands of students who have not accessed any form of education within the past [few] months.

“That alone is detrimental and it widens the education gap for our students.

“So, if the ministry is considering the hybrid approach…then the virtual platform must be adequate; it must be functioning and it must be operational because teachers have abandoned the LMS that the Ministry of Education has for the most part, and they have been using Zoom and Edmodo and Google Classroom.”

New Providence, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera have been limited to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 situation on each of those islands.