MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The lack of reliable and safe transportation has caused more concerns for some school leaders in Manchester and St Elizabeth with schools resuming face-to-face classes.
Principal of Roger Clarke High School in Balaclava, George Lewis, said some students have to take up to three taxis to get to school, exposing them to the possibility of contracting the novel coronavirus.
“We don't have a school bus. Transportation remains one of our biggest challenges. Our students rely on public transportation to get to school and the absence of a school bus is reflecting in the turnout of students,” Lewis told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
“There is the inherent risk that is associated with taking public transportation, so that is our greatest fear. Our teachers, too, many of them do take public transportation, many have to take up to four vehicles to get here, especially those coming from Mandeville.
However, the school, said the principal, has seen a steady increase in student turnout although not at the pace desired.
“We started with grades 7, 11, 12 and 13 and the student turnout has steadily increased from Monday, January 4 until now. We have expanded that number to include grade 10 and we are now rotating grades 8 and 9,” Lewis said.
Principal of Sydney Pagon STEM Academy Milbert Miller, said “about 90 per cent of our students travel via contracted buses which was in existence from before the [coronavirus pandemic]”, which the school is happy with. “We have had the arrangement since 2014, since COVID we have been enforcing [a rule] that all students travel on the contracted buses,” he said.
“We have buses leaving out of Santa Cruz, Black River, Gutters, Balaclava and Siloah, where the bulk of our students are from,” he pointed out.
Principal of Mile Gully High School, Christopher Tyme, disclosed that the school's bus transports students from the north-eastern St Elizabeth area of Balaclava to Mile Gully in Manchester north-western.
“We use our bus to transport children from Balaclava, where they would have a challenge. The other areas that are closer are easier to get transportation to Mile Gully,” he said.
“The turnout of our students averages about 54 per cent and most students say it is a challenge to come in for one day [in the week], because they don't see it as making any sense,” he added.
Heiley Salabie-Knight, principal of Mile Gully Primary, also in Manchester north-western, said the school has sought transportation services for some students.
“We have partnered with a member of the community that has the same size coaster bus that the high school has, and he is providing transportation for the students, morning and evening. In addition, parents have also contracted private carriers that drops some of the students in the mornings and pick them up in the afternoons,” she said.
“Attendance has improved. We now have some of the students who we didn't have online and who didn't participate in the pilot [last year]. Some of them are at school now. For others we have been making home visits and contacting them via telephone calls,” she added.
Principal of Belair High Lawrence Rowe said there was a good turnout of fifth and six form students for the start of face-to-face classes.
“We had 68 per cent of our students turning up on Monday of the 191 students who were to return for face-to-face classes. The six formers are coming only when they have a class.
“We would have lost quite a number of our students who did not return for various reasons. Normally, we would have about 250 students but we didn't get that number this year. Grade 12 alone, last year, was 100 students and this year we have only 40-odd students,” he said.
With the school being located on the outskirts of the town of Mandeville, students are shuttled to school.
“The only thing we can do is to transport them from Mandeville to school. We can't go into their communities because there are too many to cover. We do have a challenge with the transportation, but I have recommended to the parents that they carpool either by private or public transport, because we can't assist in that regard in terms of the transportation; there are just too many areas to cover,” he said.
“I have students coming from Trelawny, St Ann, Clarendon and St Elizabeth,” he added.