St Elizabeth, Manchester schools awaiting Gov't decision on face-to-face classesTuesday, October 26, 2021
BY KASEY WILLIAMS
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — School leaders in Manchester and St Elizabeth are preparing for the possibility that the Government will approve the resumption of face-to-face classes soon.
This follows last week's submission from the Ministry of Education to Cabinet seeking consideration for the resumption.
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 schools have been largely online-based, with very limited face-to-face interactions between students and teachers.
Thousands of children who are without the required digital devices and Internet access have been left at a disadvantage.
Reports suggest that many of those children have had little or no contact with their teachers over the last 18 months.
The leaders of Hampton School, St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) and Mile Gully High told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that they are prepared to accommodate students once the Government gives the go-ahead.
Mahvell Charlton-Brown, principal of Hampton School, said students have been anxious to return to the classroom.
“We are currently discussing an approach on reopening but we hope to be able to finalise with our stakeholders by the end of this week, including students. This morning [yesterday] we had a session [and] students were asking when [will face-to-face classes resume],” she said.
“We have received the general advisories from the ministry indicating that we should assess our respective situation and determine how we will proceed, so by Thursday I should be able to confirm [resumption],” she added.
Charlton-Brown said the all-girl St Elizabeth school, which accommodates boarders, has been coping with the effects of the pandemic.
“Whenever we open we prepare to receive boarders. While we are online we don't have boarders… We have managed not to have had a significant negative effect on our outcomes so though we don't have boarders, we continue to support our students as best [as possible] wherever they are learning remotely,” said Charlton-Brown.
Last academic year the school had resumed face-to-face classes to accommodate students sitting Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) examinations.
“Our CSEC and CAPE results show that we continue to do well. Our boarding facility would have been open up to the end of July when we had CXC [Caribbean Examinations Council] exams. We would have been open January to February, then we closed, and we reopened during the CXC period again,” said Charlton-Brown.
She said the school is awaiting guidance on any vaccination mandate from the Ministry of Health and Wellness through the Ministry of Education.
“We did ensure that we had meetings with the students and parents. We impressed on them the need to have students vaccinated. They would have been aware and we shared with them the requirement of the ministry at the time to have at least 60 per cent of the student population in any one school vaccinated,” she said.
Education Minister Fayval Williams in August had said students in secondary schools would return to face-to-face classes once their school achieved a 65 per cent vaccination rate or higher.
However, the plan was halted by a shortage of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, with many students still awaiting their second dose of the vaccine.
Pfizer is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for children ages 12 and older.
Mile Gully High School Principal Christopher Tyme said although there is a lack of Pfizer vaccines, students need to return to school.
“We started to transport some of the students to take the vaccine but, as you are aware, there is none [Pfizer] available now so that is at a standstill…. [It] presents another challenge' but we can't have them out of school either,” he said.
The number of students attending online classes, he added, is low and his school is ready to accommodate face-to-face learning.
“We are always prepared for it, because we had the children in grades 11 [and] 12 last year preparing for the CSEC [and] CAPE so most of the things are still in place. We were certified by the public health department already for that time…. We just need to get re-certification,” he explained.
“All the things would have been in place already, so we are not challenged by that,” he added.
He suggested that once the COVID-19 protocols are followed, face-to-face classes could be accommodated once more.
“If we could even go by the same protocols we had the last time, then we could facilitate. We would not have everybody in [at the same time] and [would] try to ensure that [students] maintain the protocols during the face-to-face phase. The numbers are low online,” he said.
Keith Wellington, principal of STETHS, said students should at least return to physical classes on a rotational basis.
“We have already gotten approval for some interaction for grade 11 and sixth-form students, so we are thankful for that. But we would really like to see our students being given the opportunity to start some face-to-face interaction, if not on a full-time basis [then] on a rotational basis, starting immediately,” he urged.
He said the school has encouraged students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, though recognising that there is no compulsory vaccination policy from Government.
“Obviously that is a mandate [that] can only come from the Government, so while we are of the opinion that our students and staff should take every opportunity to be vaccinated or we try to encourage them, in terms of making it mandatory, that has to come from the Government. So, we will await their instructions where that is concerned,” he said.