By Theresa Goodwin
The shortage of adequate water supply at schools on the island and the inability of some parents to keep sick children at home are some of the concerns of school administrators as the entire country prepares to respond to the much-dreaded coronavirus or COVID-19.
Another area of concern is the nonchalance with which some students are responding to advisories despite widespread coverage of the disease, which has since been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some are also of the view that, while the virus is transmitted via respiratory droplet and close contact with sick people, it will be difficult to get some children to avoid direct contact with each other or sharing especially younger ones.
A number of educators told OBSERVER that they are doing what they can to impress upon their students the importance of practicing proper hygiene, based on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education last week.
The guidelines speak to general hygiene like avoiding close contact with people who show symptoms of the common cold or flu, avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth, cleaning frequently touched surfaces and using hand sanitizers if soap and water are not available.
Principals are also expected to identify areas that can be used to initially quarantine students who exhibit signs of illness while at school.
In addition, the guidelines stated that health officials should be alerted to any suspected cases of COVID-19. Nurses, where available, will be placed on the frontline to help identify these cases.
The guidelines also outlined protocols for cleaners to exercise particular caution when carrying out their duties, while cafeteria vendors are urged to follow food safety protocols and to discourage students from sharing eating utensils.
Principal of Bendals Primary School, Josae Joseph said they had been educating students about proper handwashing methods and general hygienic practices even before the guidelines were issued.
“As a school, we have also purchased hand sanitisers, liquid soaps, and other supplies to use at the school and encourage parents to purchase these items for the children,” she said.
The administrator of a private primary school also echoed similar sentiments, adding that they have also printed pamphlets that were shared by the Ministry of Health and posted those materials in classrooms for all to see.
He said the janitorial staff has also received training on how to keep the surrounding clean and germ-free.
This was the general feedback from most of the teachers who spoke under the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, officials at two schools voiced concern that some parents are still sending very ill children to school, while others refuse to collect children who would have fallen ill at school.
The educators said this places other children at risk, as well as teachers who have to go home to their families at the end of the day.
“I am very concerned about this because it is better to keep the child at home if he or she is sick and the work could be sent home to them instead of sending the child to school to put others at risk,” one staff member of Antigua Grammar School said.
The Head of the National Parents Teachers Association (NPTA) Alister Thomas has also put forward some recommendations on how the Ministry of Education should proceed going forward.
Like the educators, Thomas is concerned about water supply at schools and a designated area for students who may fall ill in the event the virus should reach the country.
He is also of the view that officials in the Ministry of Education should explore the option of virtual classrooms in the event a crisis arises and schools are forced to close.
“We would hope that all now, that teachers would be prepared and teachers would have the information at hand and if we have to close schools, children could still get their work done online,” Thomas said.
The Head of the NPTA also questioned what measures, if any, were in place to mitigate against a shortage of food locally as more and more countries are placed on lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, resulting in a reduction in production.
“The National PTA wants to advise parents to begin to stock up — not in any panic — some basic items to feed their children in a worst case scenario,” he said.
Thomas said he is currently visiting school plants to see first hand how students and staff are faring.
Meanwhile, an official at the Antigua Public Utilities Authority said that a statement will be issued to the media on how the state-owned entity intends to deal with the issue of water supply to schools.