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By Carlena Knight

With the coronavirus pandemic raging on, the question of reopening of schools has come to the forefront on a global scale. Many have called for schools not to be reopened due to the risk of contagion and the possibility of another wave, while others are willing to send their children to school depending on the protocols put in place.

The conversation is no different here in Antigua and Barbuda. In fact, the discussion picked up pace during the last few weeks when it would be customary for parents to begin shopping for school supplies.

Many have called on the Ministry of Education to make the plan known, saying it is long overdue and the ministry is still keeping to the September 7 reopening date for the upcoming school year.

 “The Ministry of Education should have already informed parents of their plans and let us know what’s up, because honestly I don’t see no possibility of school opening in September,” one parent said.

“I’m paranoid at home much less to let my seven-year-old go to school, a place where before if one child has a flu, the entire class has it. I can’t speak for other parents, but I would rather my child be behind in class than contracting Covid-19 because if it’s one child that won’t be attending school in September, it’s mine.

“I’m in no way at all comfortable about this. I’ll continue to home-school and find every educational activity to keep her engaged, but she won’t be sitting in any classroom until the government gets their ducks in a straight row.”

Another raised the concern of the influx of students from private schools into the public school system as many parents, having not worked in months, may not be able to meet the payment of school fees.

“If they come up with a plan that can promise the safety of the children, I’m okay with that. However, I’m not too optimistic about it. There is first the issue of adequate spacing for proper social distancing, the surety of students maintaining safe distance when outside the classroom, and the health challenges associated with keeping the masks on for prolonged periods,” the concerned parent said.

Another explained, “Even if schools implement a shift system, there is still the issue of teachers working longer hours to accommodate this. Plus, the classrooms would need to be properly sanitised before the next shift begins.

“I truly believe as a parent that they may have to continue online teaching/learning for now. Look at it this way, our children will just get an early start in adjusting to what college/university learning platforms are like. Finally, if this is explored, I pray that extensive training is done with the teachers so that the children receive an optimum level of the teaching experience.”

In a press release yesterday, the Ministry of Education sought to assure the public that “plans for returning students to instruction for the 2020/2021 academic year were progressing”.

According to the document, several school principals have submitted their individual school plans for approval and that, in partnership with the Ministry of Works, additional learning spaces will be provided for some schools facilitating face to face interaction.

However, for largely populated schools, there will be a shift system or rotational approach with half of the student population being able to access face to face interaction, as well as online learning.

The release noted that after consultation with teachers, principals, the Antigua Barbuda Union of Teachers and the Antigua and Barbuda Transport Board, the ministry has developed some reopening guidelines governing health and safety protocols, and an overview of learning spaces requirements for public schools, among others.

A press conference is slated to be held in early August to further update the public about the plans.

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