Educational stakeholders are asking for consultation before the reopening of school for vaccinated students.
At a press conference on Saturday, the Prime Minister announced that face-to-face classes would resume on October 6 for form four, five, and six students who have been fully vaccinated.
Face-to-face classes were suspended in March 2020 as the country battled to contain the first wave of the covid19 pandemic. Virtual classes were introduced to reduce the gap in the education system.
Earlier this year, Dr Rowley spoke of plans to have children return to physical classes once the country has enough people vaccinated. These plans have changed with the arrival of two new covid19 variants followed by a significant spike in covid19 deaths and cases.
Last week, during a feature address at the commissioning of the San Juan Government Primary School, Rowley expressed disappointment in the low vaccination rate among students, after the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine which is approved for children between ages12 to 18.
He said then, if vaccination of over 60 per cent of students was not achieved by mid-September, the government would consider making the covid19 vaccine mandatory for eligible children.
On Saturday, however, he announced only vaccinated children would be allowed out to school.
While some stakeholders are in support of Rowley’s decision, those contacted by Newsday on Sunday still believed they should be consulted to ensure that the restart of face-to-face classes would be a smooth process for both students and teachers.
Speaking to Newsday on Sunday, CEO of the Catholic Education Board Sharon Mangroo said, “Before the Prime Minister made his announcement we had a proposal for him where, if we were able to get enough of our children and teachers vaccinated, we would allow those schools to reopen.”
She said the board was excited to have schools reopen.
“We are very anxious to get our schools physically opened. We support the Prime Minister 100 per cent.”
She said even though vaccination percentages varied between schools, the board would continue to clamour to parents and teachers to get vaccinated.
“I have two schools with a high rate among teachers and students and another with an extremely low rate."
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha secretary-general Vijay Maharaj also stands with Rowley in his move to only allow vaccinated students back out to the class.
“I agree with the Prime Minister 110 per cent with what he said.
"I’m of the opinion that those children who are not vaccinated but have good reason (for not doing so) should be allowed (to attend physical classes). But those who have no reason and decide to stay home, we cannot do virtual classes for them. Teachers would not be able to do face to face and online at the same time.”
He said a survey done with schools under the Maha Sabha Board showed 82 per cent of teachers had been vaccinated. The aim is to get all vaccinated.
“I’m hoping by the end of September we would be in the 90s.”
When contacted for a comment TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) second vice-president Kyrla Robinson-Thomas said the association supported the PM's decision but wanted consultations with the Ministry of Education.
“We hope the ministry will call TTUTA to sit down and discuss how practical it would be to work out all the logistics. What will happen to students that are unvaccinated? There is no capability at schools for face-to-face and live streaming for students who are unvaccinated and remain at home. Then there are students who don’t have the opportunity to come back out yet and have the same teacher for virtual classes. How should that teacher operate?
“Planning for face-to-face and then online delivery is too much for the teacher to handle...”
Robinson-Thomas hoped such a meeting would happen soon.
Asked about vaccination among teachers who would also be returning to physical classes, she said, “It stands to reason that there would be a request for all teachers doing face-to-face classes to be vaccinated. Unless it is made mandatory, it is a choice.
“We hope people are making an educated choice. We know there are people who will be excluded from taking the vaccine because of medical reasons but I’m sure it will be a valid reason. As a parent, if I’m told my child needs to be vaccinated to return to school I’m going to ask if my children are going to teachers that are vaccinated.”
She also urged the ministry to do what was necessary to ensure all existing covid19 guidelines were adhered to.
President of the Concerned Parents Teachers Association Clarence Mendoza accused Rowley of micro-managing. He said that would end in chaos between the ministry, parents, teachers and students.
"The Minister of Education is saying one thing and now we have the Prime Minister saying something else. What is happening? Where is the consultation? This is not a one-man show."