TTUTA: Negligence led to covid19 cases among students

Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School, one of three which closed because of covid19 after reopening for SEA students to prepare for the August 20 exam. - Ayanna Kinsale
Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School, one of three which closed because of covid19 after reopening for SEA students to prepare for the August 20 exam. - Ayanna Kinsale

TT Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Antonia De Freitas said people have been complacent about following covid19 protocols and now, with schools reopened for Standard Five students, the country is seeing the impact of that negligence on the children.

She pointed out that, in the first instance, adults were contracting the virus and spreading it to children. She therefore urged citizens to be vigilant about following the proper health protocols.

Her plea came after it was confirmed that three schools – Maraval RC School, Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary and St Augustine South Government Primary – had to be closed because of covid19 over the past week.

On Saturday, there were unconfirmed reports that the ASJA Primary School in Charlieville was closed on Friday. It has been reported that the parent of a standard five tested positive. Classes were suspended and the school was closed for sanitisation. Calls to ASJA president Yacoob Ali went unanswered on Saturday.

Recently, four students of Maraval RC School tested positive, and students of the Tacarigua and St Augustine schools were contacts of covid19 cases although, up to Friday, there were no new reports of children contacting the virus.

De Freitas said the Education Ministry held a stakeholder meeting on Tuesday and the ministry was insistent that the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) Examination be held on August 20.

She said TTUTA would have preferred not to go forward with that date but TT did not have an alternative placement method so it could only monitor the situation and re-evaluate if the number of cases spiralled out of control.

Signs on St Augustine South Government Primary School warn that no one will be allowed to enter if they have flu-like symptoms and did not wear a mask. - ROGER JACOB

At the meeting TTUTA suggested closing schools and allowing students to continue SEA preparations online. Also, usually primary school teachers supervise the SEA exams but TTUTA suggested, if there was a continued increase in covid19 cases in the school environment, the ministry could pay external invigilators to oversee the exam.

“At this point in time we are monitoring the situation and we will be advised by the Ministry of Health. But we do believe, apart from the issue of the cases within the schools, there was a lot of concern expressed at the meeting, that the level of personal responsibility that the ordinary citizen should be engaging in was not there.”

She commended the principals, teachers, and school supervisors at the impacted schools as, she said, they implemented the necessary health protocols and were fully prepared for the reopening of schools.

CEO of the Catholic Education Board of Management, and Denominational School Boards Association Chairman, Sharon Mangroo, added that after a meeting on Monday, stakeholders had another with the Ministry of Education for further talks about the way forward with covid19 in schools.

She said the Catholic Board already sent out polls to principals of schools under its purview and teachers were concerned that their students would be disadvantaged if they do the make up SEA exam. They were also anxious about their children who would have to return to school in September.

She said another poll would be sent out this weekend to members of the Denominational Boards Association on how they felt about continuing classes.

“It’s important because as owners of the properties the schools are in, we also have responsibility and liability for what happens on our properties.”

Still, she said they did not want to change the SEA date.

“Parents and teachers have made it clear that the children are in a state of anxiety waiting for this exam. If it is at all possible to not change the date, we don’t want it changed.”

However, she said a big concern was that there were a large number of children who have not engaged in any classes since March for several reasons including having no devices, a lack of connectivity, and no interest in attending classes. But, she said, the Education Ministry was “working feverishly” on getting students devices.

“It’s not just a matter of passing SEA or doing well. These are citizens of the country and if they are not educated, we are going to pay in the end. A country can’t develop without its citizens being educated. So we have a responsibility to everybody.”

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