Ministry to investigate teacher standoff at Irene B Williams Secondary

IBWSS staff outside the classrooms (photo contributed)
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By Theresa Goodwin

[email protected]

Director of Education Clare Browne said his ministry will be investigating the circumstances which led to staff at the Irene B Williams Secondary School (IBWSS) to take the stance they did on Tuesday.

Teachers at the educational institution reportedly refused to enter classrooms of the school — located in Swetes — out of concern that a number of students have allegedly been exposed to the Covid-19 virus through family members.

Observer was reliably informed that relatives of at least two children — a fifth former and a first former — tested positive for the virus, and while one student is apparently being quarantined at home, the other attended school up to Monday.

“I have not received yet, from the Ministry of Health, any notification of recent times of anyone at Irene B. We are aware that something might have happened [Tuesday] morning and we have asked the school leadership to furnish a report to the Ministry of Education,” Browne said.

It is understood that the teachers, concerned for their health, requested a closure of the school for sanitation purposes, out of an abundance of caution.

A source close to the school said there are educators who have underlying health conditions and are also taking care of young children. It was also reported that some parents pulled their children out of school due to the recent development.

The teachers were advised to return to work today pending further directives from their bargaining agent — the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) — and the Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, the director of education said that, pertaining to IBWSS, the ministry intends to dialogue with the Ministry of Health and the president of the teachers’ union.

“It is the Ministry of Health that must give the Ministry of Education advice as to how to proceed with schools. They are the ones that are testing, they are the ones that are doing the contact tracing, they are the ones that weigh the risks and then advise the ministry,” Browne said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the head of the A&BUT Kimdale Mackellar called for the government to put more preventative measures in place to protect students and teachers from the immediate risk of contracting Covid-19.

He said that based on reports from the union’s staff representatives, there are several issues at some of the nation’s schools that could heighten the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

The union boss stressed that most schools are out of cleaning supplies and are still without trained personnel to assist in the event of an emergency or a designated area for a sick bay.

He also explained that some parents are still sending sick children to school, while others have retuned without medical clearance.

During a discussion on state media, on Monday night, education officials insisted that the country is not yet in a position where schools are at immediate risk of being overrun by Covid-19 transmission.

Education Minster Daryll Matthew said that, to date, no student has tested positive for the virus and despite some students being connected to positive cases, the situation can be controlled.

He also noted that a more conclusive decision will be taken on schools during the next meeting of Cabinet, which takes place today.

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