JTA president wants schools to be told of COVID-19-positive students

President of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel is calling on the Ministry of Health and Wellness to disclose to educators the number of children who have tested positive for COVID-19.

With 129 schools cleared to resume face-to-face classes by January 18, Gabriel argued that the educators need to know what is happening with their students.

“We are calling for a very efficient way to be found so that the particular schools can be advised as to whether they have any of their students testing positive because it is possible that students can show up at school, not all the parents and guardians are very vigilant and obviously that could expose an entire population,” Gabriel told the Jamaica Observer, as he underscored that the JTA had been front and centre in the discussions and commended the ministry for its “very cautious approach” to the reopening of schools.

Asked whether the disclosure of positive COVID-19 status of students could invite the fury of individuals on the grounds that their privacy was being invaded, Gabriel told the Observer that “parents have the responsibility to inform the schools and the administrators in the case that a child tests positive, and I think we need to think of more efficient ways, if it is the parents are willing to sign some kind of disclosure so that the information can go to the schools they would be under no duress to do that, but I think it is important to advise the schools”.

The JTA president added: “We want to contain [COVID-19] as much as possible; this is something we have to have more discussion and decisions on as we go forward as much as possible.”

The Enforcement Orders for the Disaster Risk Management Act, which guides the country’s response to the pandemic states that no information shall be published which discloses the identity of:

(a) A person who has tested positive for, or who is suspected to have, the SARS–CoV-2 (Coronavirus COVID-19), or another person who is a family member of that person; or

(b) A person conducting any health examination, contact tracing or health investigation, in respect of any person mentioned in paragraph (a), without that person’s express consent, and an authorized officer may at any time make a direction to that effect.

In the meantime Gabriel pointed out that while 129 schools being approved for face-to-face classes “may seem a lot”, there are almost 1,000 public schools in the island.

“So this is almost 15 per cent of the number of schools across the county,” said Gabriel, as he argued that the situation has to remain fluid in terms of schools reopening and remaining open.

“Because come round about mid-January we will get a fair assessment as to the impact of the Christmas and new year’s festivities on the numbers, and so we have to leave the options open as far as pulling back if that is required and closing some of those institutions if it is we are having any serious increases in terms of the numbers, the next few days will be very interesting,” said Gabriel.

“The importance [of schools reopening] is not lost on us, especially concerning students who are to sit various external exams this year. Whatever we can do to help to ensure students get the best experience is very important, at the same time safety is paramount. We continue to call for rapid improvement in terms of the online experience, in terms of the Internet connectivity,” he added.

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