By Makeida Antonio
“The short answer to what you’re asking is, discussions continue,” Director of Education Clare Browne told Observer yesterday when asked if schools will reopen next week in light of recent spike in Covid-19 cases.
However, he said that the final decision to reopen schools will come from the Cabinet, following a presentation to be made by the Ministry of Education this week.
“We have to go to Cabinet on Wednesday. We have to take something to Cabinet so out of widespread discussion, we will have something to present to the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda. It is the Cabinet will ultimately decide what way we should go,” he said.
Browne explained that Ministry of Education officials have already begun contacting the principals of schools across Antigua and Barbuda to get their feedback, given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and after Sunday’s dashboard released by the Ministry of Health showed the country recorded 111 new cases.
“What I did ask education officers, especially after I saw the dashboard was to consult with their principals as to how best, in light of the continued deteriorating, epidemiological situation in which we’ve found ourselves, how best we can open,” he said.
The Education Director underscored the importance of face-to-face instruction and believes that teachers must be willing and open to that format upon arriving at a final decision on the matter.
“We are all agreed that the best way to teach students is to have them in a classroom with their teachers. Now, whether it’s going to be one day per week or if they’re going to be there at all, it is going to be dependent on what counsel we get and willingness on teachers’ part to do certain things,” Browne said.
As for Covid-19 protocols in schools, the Director of Education assured all parties involved that they were in effect during the last academic year, and will remain in place but are subject to revision under the advice of the Ministry of Health.
“I can say with certainty is that school will open somehow come the 13th of September; students need to have an education. Our desire is to open school for in-person instruction, but we cannot do that unless the learning environment is safe. We would have developed protocols last year that are still in place right now, that we continued to revise throughout the months of the last academic year. Once we developed them in September, we continued to, on a monthly basis, look at them, to make revisions and so on,” he said.
Meanwhile, Browne remained firm that it is up to each individual to ensure that they do what is best for their health and overall well-being, although the Government of Antigua and Barbuda encouraged vaccination to those who are eligible.
“We continued to ensure that the infrastructure in place in each of our schools but another tier of safety is to have the most eligible students and the teachers vaccinated. We continue to encourage and one thing that we, the Ministry of Education recognise, is that there is no vaccination mandate in this country and we respect that. We respect people’s choice, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to provide an education.”