THA Assistant Secretary of Education Orlando Kerr has confirmed that the island’s schools will be reopened for physical classes on February 7.
At Wednesday’s virtual post=Executive Council media briefing, Kerr said, “The debate as to whether schools should reopen, how schools should reopen, who should be attending schools and all of that continues. The reality is come February 7, all schools will be opened. So our secondary schools form one to three will be out and our primary schools standard five would be out. Whether we agree with that situation or not, that is the reality of what we have to deal with.”
In a release on Monday evening, the ministry said students in forms 1-3 are required to return to the physical classroom on February 7 on a rotational basis. It said all students will be required to attend school physically at minimum two days per week, and five days in a 10-day cycle. The release also said standard five students are required to attend physical classes from February 7 to March 31.
Kerr said the division has begun to engage principals in the safe reopening of school.
“Presently, we have consultations in progress with our primary school principals. We had a consultation on Monday with our secondary school principals. That was done because we needed to have a sense of what were the challenges experiencing by these principals, what were their needs, what they felt were the priorities.”
He said another consultation will be held on Friday with the Early Childhood Care and Education Centres (ECCE).
The draft documentation on the reopening of schools sent by the Ministry of Education, he said would have highlighted five modes for operation.
“What we wanted to find out from our principals is how they would have been able to put any of these modes into operation and what were their suggestions on the way going froward.”
He commended all the principals who presented their plan for the reopening of school.
As he addressed the issue of ageing buildings, he said while primary schools would have been closed for almost two years, the secondary schools continue to engage fourth, fifth and sixth formers.
“It means that many of those buildings would have been without persons occupying them, and we know what usually happens to buildings when they are not occupied.”
He said there was no vacation repairs programme in 2021. "We are presently and we have started to evaluate those buildings.”
He said the Project Implementation Unit (PIU) would have prepared scopes for the 2021 vacation repairs and at present, the division is taking out those items that are critical to the reopening of schools and dealing with those items so that the schools will be ready."
Kerr said a team from the division of works will be visiting primary schools to assist in upgrades.
He said the division is hoping to work together with all the stakeholders.
“This is not a situation where its an education problem, but it's an issue for all of us in society to really work together to try to have our children back out to schools safely.”
The division is also partnering with the division of health, as he said the schools would need to be sprayed for pests in the coming week.
New furniture for primary and secondary schools is also on the list of priorities for the division, Kerr said.
"As you are aware, the advent of covid19 would have created a lot of issues in terms of supply and the supply chains. So we are engaging our suppliers and we hope to have those pieces of furniture within one month and that is being optimistic, but we are going to continue to try to see how quickly we can get the furniture in.”
He also gave an assurance to the parents.
“We want to assure the parents that all the basic safety operations would be obtained and would be observed. So we are going to have our basic handwashing stations at every school, schools would be provided with temperature checks, social distancing and of course students would be required to wear their masks.
"We at the division would continue to provide the schools with supplies for sanitation on a more regular basis, we are also looking at having where possible more persons to do cleaning so that the environment that the students are in would be sanitised constantly to reduce the possibility of them contracting covid19.”
Questioned about the budget as it pertains to these upgrades, he said the evaluation process is still ongoing, but he believes it would be over $17 million.