School rules in Jamaica

COVID-19 School Safety

The Cabinet could decide today on a timetable for the resumption of face-to-face classes in public schools.

The Ministry of Education last week submitted a plan for the consideration of the Cabinet for the return to face-to-face classes.

Jamaica Observer sources say the matter was discussed during a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on COVID last Friday with the full complement of ministers expected to nake a decision today.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness signalled that the matter is due for consideration during one of his vaccination stops in north Clarendon last week.

“The consideration is for a return to face-to-face for the vaccinated category of students, but we have to also look at where we are in the present wave,” said Holness.

“I am appealing especially to parents who would like to see their children return to school, to get vaccinated and when the vaccines that are approved for children come, please get your child vaccinated,” added Holness who has repeatedly declared his desire to see a return to face-to-face classes.

According to Holness, the one solution to getting students back into the physical classrooms is to increase the vaccination rate.

He againg encouraged parents to “do the right thing” for their children and get them vaccinated.

Holness has argued that Jamaica’s COVID-19 positivity rate is not low enough to risk returning to activities that may cause the virus to spread.

During a previous trip to vaccines sites in Clarendon North Central, Holness had made it clear that he want to see a resumption of face-to-face classes as he urged people to get vaccinated.

“There is one voiceless victim in all of this, which I am really passionate about, and I think that is the area that has suffered the most, and that is the education system and our children. They are not out there complaining, but they have suffered the most because some people are choosing to pursue their own freedom without thinking… how this impacts a fulfilled life for others.

“And the longer we take to bring the pandemic under control, and control the virus, is the greater the impact will be on our children. I will not allow that to happen. So, yes, we will respect people’s rights, we will follow the process before we do anything to infringe on people’s rights, but the two things can’t continue in parallel. The children must go back to school; they have suffered the most,” said a strident Holness at that time.

Any decision by the Government to resume face-to-face classes should have the endorsement of the Opposition People’s National Party and the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA)

At a meeting last Friday, the JTA’s central executive gave its support for a phased resumption of face-to-face schooling, but said the decision must be guided by the Disaster Risk Management Act and that the Ministry of Education should outline a structured resumption plan.

The JTA added that all schools must be provided with the required resources as stipulated by public health protocols and priority given to students preparing for external examinations.

In the meantime, the Opposition’s shadow person on education Dr Angela Brown Burke last week called on the Government to reopen all public schools.

She said this could be achieved through a variety of methods, which include dividing classes into smaller groups so that every student can attend in-person classes for at least one day per week.

“Despite the mismanagement of the Pfizer vaccine distribution, our children’s education cannot continue to be placed on hold. A generation of children is at risk of irreversible learning loss, malnutrition and poor mental health outcomes.” All of us should be concerned about the growing inequality amongst children, as too many of them remain out of school without any access to structured education,” said Brown Burke,

She also called on the Government to appoint social workers and additional guidance counsellors to ensure that the psycho-social needs of the children are met.

Brown Burke demanded that all arrangements for the reopening of schools begin no later than this week and that the Government immediately implements a coordinated approach by the ministries of education; transport and works; and health; for a transportation plan to minimise crowding and exposure for students using public transportation.

The Opposition spokesperson also urged the Government to utilise the plans developed more than one year ago, by school administrations, and others, which determined the maximum capacity of each classroom while observing physical distancing guidelines.

Brown Burke also called for the strict adherence to COVID protocols such as mask-wearing, hand washing and sanitising and argued that parents and guardians should be given the option of having students participate in online classes, only if they have underlying conditions.

“Parents should agree to keep children at home if they feel sick or are showing any of the listed symptoms of COVID-19,” said Brown Burke.

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