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Teachers union president shares concerns over safety of teachers and students

Newly appointed President of the A&BUT, Kimdale Mackellar.

By Carlena Knight

Newly appointed President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) Kimdale Mackellar has raised a number of issues that are affecting educators during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His comments were made during yesterday’s observation of World Teachers Day under the theme: “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”.

During an interview on Observer AM, Mackellar outlined the concerns which he said have been brought to his attention by the educators, mainly the protocols for teachers if they show signs of contracting Covid-19, or if they have been exposed to someone who may have the virus.

He called for clarity on what the protocols are for teachers who may decide to stay home from work if they exhibit any symptoms.

According to the Civil Service regulations, the educators are allowed to two consecutive sick days, with pay, but need to present a medical certificate if the illness goes into a third day. But Mackellar stated that this needs to be addressed, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The same concern he said, surrounds the scenario with students who may have been exposed to another classmate with symptoms of the disease.

“We know what to do in terms of the drill and the nurses and the child gets taken to the isolation room … but then what happens to those other 13 children and the teacher? Are they allowed o go back out in the general population? Or do they go to the staffroom or other places? Can we do that and we don’t know the status of the child initially? So, we just need some clarity where that is concerned,” he said.

“The union is open to meet with the Ministry [of Education] anytime, anyplace, and work those things out because we want our schools to be safe; we want our schools to be healthy.” 

Regarding the supervision of students, Mackellar is still hoping that the promised additional staff will be provided soon, as he is in fear of teachers being “burned out”.

In earlier reports, officials at the Ministry of Education had indicated that they will be looking to acquire more human resources (from other government sectors) and who may not be working at this time, to help in the monitoring of students to ensure they abide by the health protocols and also to step in as teachers for classes that may need one.

But, according to Mackellar, he is not aware that any additional personnel have been attached to schools. He said it is of great concern that teachers may become overwhelmed both physically and mentally if nothing is done.

“The teachers are mixed about the monitoring because you know it’s about everybody’s safety but at the same time their breaks are gone and even during the break, you still have to be monitoring the children and then go straight back to a class.

“It’s taxing and I am telling you right now we are teaching two sets of children the same thing for two days, and it is very taxing. Then we ae also on the Google platform trying to still engage the children who are at home, and so what we don’t want is a situation which teachers are burnt out. What we don’t want is a situation where teachers are so tired that it affects their immune system at a time like this,” he explained.

Adequate school security and the ongoing matter of improving Internet speed and accessibility at the school plants were also among the concerns.

Although Mackellar commended the Ministries of Information and Education for their efforts thus far regarding Internet access and speed in some schools, he said there is still a number of schools without any Internet. He is, however, hoping that as time progresses that matter will be rectified.

Regarding security, he expounded on the seriousness of keeping school plants secure during this pandemic.

“We have to make sure schools are secure and the access to schools is limited. Now if you take a school like Sir Novelle Richards Academy, that school isn’t fenced, so anybody at any time can walk onto that compound. It is my understanding that students from ABICE walk across the compound, villagers walk across the compound and that situation can’t stand, so we are hoping that the ministry and the union and the teachers and all the other stakeholders can get together and rectify the situation as soon as possible,” he said.

“There are some schools that don’t even have security at all. The general public I think has been pretty understanding but in a school like Sir Novelle the concern is that any and every one can pass across that compound and there will be no way to trace that person,” he added. He is however commending teachers and other staff for their effortless work thus far during the new normal.