Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Fayval Williams, says the Government will continue to reopen more schools on a phased basis.
A total of 39 schools are now participating in face-to-face classes, comprising the 17 that were a part of the two-week pilot programme in November, as well as an additional 22 institutions that reopened on December 7.
“We know it would not be wise to have all our schools, all at once, coming back to face-to-face, and so, we believe in this method of bringing schools back over time in a phased way, in an orderly way. It would allow us to ensure that the resources that the schools need are available to them,” Mrs. Williams said.
“It also gives increased confidence to our parents, to our students, that we are being deliberate and we are managing in a sound way to ensure the safety of our students,” she added.
Mrs. Williams, who was addressing a virtual town hall on Wednesday (December 9), said that the process for reopening is being guided by the assessment of the face-to-face pilot, including evaluation of the institutions by the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“We would have used the pilot programme to help us to understand everything about the schools to give us the confidence to reopen. We would have used a risk-based approach to look at a number of different factors. On top of that, we would have had consultations with the principals, the teachers on the ground to help to guide us,” she pointed out.
She added: “We want to make sure that we just don’t say the school is open, but that the principals, students, parents are ready for those schools to be opened, and so that is what happened in the two weeks of the pilot for those 17 schools.”
She noted that the assessments involved interviews with students and parents to hear their concerns.
“We wanted to hear what they are most fearful of, were they aware of the protocols and so on. It gave us useful information that we’re now using to guide the next round of schools that can come back face-to-face,” she added.
Mrs. Williams pointed out that the physical inspection of school plants carried out by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, is a critical factor in determining whether they can resume in-person classes.
This includes ensuring that they have adequate handwash stations, social distance markers in the corridors and isolation rooms to manage cases of a child coming to school with respiratory symptoms.
A total of 87 of the 171 high schools across the Ministry’s seven education regions are classified as low risk, with 66 approved as coronavirus (COVID)-compliant by the Ministry of Health and Wellness and deemed satisfactory for reopening.
As it relates to the 760 primary schools, there are 211 that are classified as low risk, and 59 have been approved as COVID-compliant and, therefore, ready for phased face-to-face reopening.
Some 86 schools have indicated their preference to begin face-to-face classes at the start of the new school term on January 4, 2021.