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Principals at some of the 17 schools scheduled to be reopened as part of a two-week face-to-face pilot are fuming, as they say they had not been consulted by the Ministry of Education which announced the list on the weekend.
Yallahs High School Principal Mark Malabver said he and colleagues are “flying in the dark” and accused the ministry of being “untidy” in how it went about the matter.
According to Malabver, he found out that Yallahs is to be a part of the trial run through social media.
The principals of Somerton All-Age School in St James; Troy High and Albert Town High, both in Trelawny, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that that, too, was their experience.
“I wasn’t aware, and I am certain as well that my other principal colleagues, certainly at the high school level, were not aware that we were a part of the pilot. What I got was a letter sent to me via social media. Apparently, it was a letter from the [education ministry’s] PS (permanent secretary) to the PS of Health and Wellness [ministry] listing the schools,” Malabver stated.
Education Minister Fayval Williams announced during a press conference last week that students at 17 schools are to resume face-to-face classes on a trial basis between November 9 and 20 in the parishes of Clarendon, Manchester, Portland, St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, Westmoreland, St Thomas, and Trelawny. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in the selected schools.
At the time of Williams’ announcement the schools were not named.
However, a letter dated October 29, 2020 — addressed to Ministry of Health and Wellness’s Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan and which made the rounds on social media — listed the schools expected to participate.
It was signed by acting permanent secretary in the education ministry Dr Grace McLean, who asked for the health ministry’s assistance in inspecting the schools, the assignment of COVID-19 response teams in the event of a suspected case, and communication to the education ministry where areas of concern are noted.
The letter had a list of 16 schools. They are Tranquility Primary and Infant and Moore Town Primary and Junior High in Portland; Yallahs High in St Thomas; Steer Town Primary and Junior High in St Ann; Troy High and Albert Town High in Trelawny; Somerton All-Age and Infant and Chatsworth Primary and Infant in St James; Chantilly Primary in Westmoreland; Mile Gully Primary in Manchester; Bethlehem All-Age and Infant and Ballards Valley Primary in St Elizabeth; and Morgan’s Forest Primary and Infant, Garlogie Primary and Junior High, Alston High, and Kemps Hill High in Clarendon.
The letter did not indicate the basis for the selections.
Malabver said, while he finds the pilot necessary, as he is unable to reach more than 60 per cent of his students via mandatory online classes caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is “ridiculous” to select schools without informing or consulting principals.
“My challenge is how untidy it is being done. Up to this point in time I have had no communication from the ministry at all about us being a part of a pilot. If you’re going to have us be a part of the pilot there must be a series of meetings that would have had to have taken place for discussions and dialogue as to how it is this thing will be implemented,” argued Malabver.
Additionally, he said data would have had to be shared to show how the ministry arrived at its decision in selecting the schools.
“There are some legitimate concerns that we would have had, given due regard to COVID-19 and the anxiety that all involved would have had — whether it is parents, students, teachers, or ancillary staff members. We would need to meet with them and share whatever information was coming out of the ministry in terms of data and to try and appease them regarding the steps we will take to minimise any contracting of the virus,” the educator said.
He said the model of execution is also important to know in terms of a regular system or a shift system.
“There are so many unanswered questions… So I’m flying in the dark. We are flying in the dark, so to speak. No form of consultation has taken place. I am just in the dark. It is ridiculous. You can’t operate like this. With them doing something like this we are going to have pushback from some members,” he said.
Troy High School Principal Eddie White said, while he is not opposed to the reopening, he has concerns.
“I am just responding to what is out there, because we have not been officially informed that we are a part of the pilot. If that were true that we are selected, then I will have several questions that I would ask the ministry,” he argued.
“We are not opposed to reopening, but I am just wondering what set of data would have informed this decision? Why these 17 schools and not the others? What is it that the data would’ve said that would make my staff, my students, my parents be safe, but the other staff members, parents and students in other schools would be less safe or be prone to danger? What is it that will happen at the end of the two weeks? What is it that this data will inform?” he asked.
White also argued that many of his students are from several neighbouring communities and the daily commute would increase the risk to them and his staff contracting the coronavirus.
Troy district lies on the border of Manchester, St Elizabeth, and Trelawny.
“I have children who come from Battersea, Balaclava, Comfort Hall, Colleyville, Pike, Warsop, Christiana — all over the place — and teachers who are from Mandeville, Balaclava, St Ann, and so on. With all of these persons who are travelling and converging at the school, what would be the potential dangers where COVID-19 is concerned?” he questioned.
“Another concern that I have is that who would have done any studies to say where these children are. We know that from March they are not in school, so who says that these children are just sitting in their communities? How do I know that some are not in Kingston, Montego Bay, St Catherine, and so on?”
Albert Town High School Principal Dwayne Edwards had the same concerns, noting that he also learnt of the selection via social media.
“We only became aware of the intentions to reopen after seeing the letter that has been making the rounds on social media. No one has contacted us from the ministry. We have had no dialogue whatsoever, and I would want to think that there are critical conversations to be had. We are talking about lives here, and it is very discomforting that such a decision would have been taken without involving the stakeholders whom it will directly affect,” Edwards argued.
Glendon Brydson, principal of Somerton All-Age and Infant School, told the Observer that his school heard of its enlistment for the first time on the news. Since then, the school has been receiving calls from some parents who are concerned.
“We have been getting calls from some parents to say that they heard it on the news that we are going to be reopening face-to-face and they are wondering why, because if there are no cases [of COVID-19] in the community, they don’t think it should open, because if we are not having any cases, we should continue to do what we are doing not to have any cases,” said Brydson.
He said a meeting will be scheduled for later this week to inform parents of the ministry’s decision.
The principal also stated that some teachers might not be ready for face-to-face classes because of comorbidities.
Despite the concerns, Brydson said the school will be doing all it can in preparation for next week’s resumption.
When contacted, Dr Michelle Pinnock, director of the education ministry’s Region Four, said: “The conversation is ongoing. We are actually in dialogue with the schools and we will have an official meeting tomorrow [today] with the schools themselves and also with the permanent secretary. So, the conversation continues.”
She noted that, up to yesterday, meetings were being held with officers in an effort to have the communication and the necessary protocols in place. (Jamaica Observer)