Schools reopening plan unveiled

Schools reopening plan unveiled
(FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Ministry of Education today released its Strategic Plan for the Safe Reopening of Schools 2020, which covers face-to-face, hybrid and remote/online learning models.

The 95-page document provides 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.

“We must continue to build a sector that is equipped to transition from one modality to another, and simultaneously train staff, students, parents and those attached to our sector with the skills needed to make unprecedented and unpredictable transitions,” the document states.

“This plan offers additional ways in which this can be done, and it does so in the context of a COVID-19 era. This document, therefore, is multilayered, and paramount are the endorsed health and safety protocols which all schools, service providers and those who visit and or use our facilities must follow.”

It adds, “In addition to health and safety protocols, determining the mode of delivery of instruction is also critical. Three models are proposed in this plan, but based on reports from health officials, the remote model will be our default model.

“To provide for a seamless transition, this plan details how the three models will unfold. School leaders have to be prepared to change over to any of the other models or operate within two models at the same time.”

Schools outside of Abaco and New Providence have been engaged in face-to-face learning as of October 5.

But in-person learning on Eleuthera and Exuma was prohibited on November 9 and November 11 respectively due to a rise in cases on both islands.

Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd said last week three public schools on New Providence and Abaco could be reopened in January with hybrid learning, including face-to-face, as part of a pilot program as the government phases students back into the classroom.

Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson indicated earlier this month 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.

The ministry’s recently released plan does not prescribe testing for students or teachers prior to returning to the classroom; however, it does advise those with COVID-19 symptoms, a temperature above 100.4 degrees or who have been in recent contact with a positive COVID-19 case to stay at home and inform the school.

The plan also notes the ministry’s intention to work with bus and/or ferry operators for transportation, noting: “The Ministry of Education contracts bus and ferry operators to transport students to and from school daily.

“Prior to the opening of school, services providers…will be responsible for complying with and ensuring that students adhere to health and safety protocols. The Ministry of Education will conduct random checks, as is normally the case, to ensure adherence to the health and safety regulations.”

Bus/ferry operators will be required to ensure all passengers wear masks and observe social distancing; operate at 50 percent capacity; ensure frequently-touched surfaces are cleaned at least twice daily; and keep a checklist with the names of students as they enter and exit each day.

Parents are expected to follow the school’s COVID-19 protocols upon arrival on campus, the plan notes, and visitors may not be permitted if they display any symptoms of the virus.

For teachers, the plan outlines “four pillars” of training, accountability, assessment and resources, “each playing a role so that we are able to properly execute to bring about the desired outcomes”.

It states, “There is no denying that the delivery of education, in normal circumstances, is a mammoth undertaking. With COVID-19 considerations, the task becomes far greater, but not insurmountable.

“The task will require something more and different from all stakeholders, as noted in this document. Embedded in these requirements are tenets of adaptability and change that internal and external stakeholders have expressed through their recommendations.

“Hence, the appeal for all team members to execute their roles as outlined in the document to ensure that education continues to play its role in safeguarding our country’s future, especially in a COVID-19 Era.”

Schools’ Health and Safety Plans are to be made available for public viewing on school websites, the document notes.