STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE,
YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
TUESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2020
REOPENING OF SCHOOLS
Good day and God’s blessings to the people of the Virgin Islands. I come before you as Minister for Education to give you an update on the 2020-21 academic school year. The Chief Education Officer assembled a task force to come up with a plan for how teaching and learning would take place in this COVID-19 era of schooling, and I thank them for their commendable efforts in putting forward a solid plan. That plan was brought to Cabinet last week and was passed.
Following Cabinet’s decision, I was scheduled to deliver a statement last week on the opening of schools. However, soon after, I received news from the Minister for Health that we had an additional case. Since that time, we have had several positive COVID-19 cases with a total of 17 presently active. Alarmingly, some of these cases are school aged children. Equally concerning is the fact that these positive cases were socially active and frequented crowded, festive social gatherings.
In light of this extremely serious reality, I cannot in good conscience proceed with the plan to reopen schools to face to face instruction. This will place administrators, teachers, support staff, and, our most precious resource, our children all at risk. I am aware of the fact that many are yearning for the return to the classroom, and I have received criticism from many who are advocating for opening the Territory up, but we must prioritize the health of our children and our people above all other considerations.
Therefore, we will return to online learning for the rest of the year. This includes all public schools and private schools, and our primary, secondary, and tertiary learning institutions. Cabinet will reevaluate in the coming weeks and months to determine when it will be safe to return to the classroom. Until then we will continue to rely on the use of technology.
For private schools, classes begin as early as next Monday, 31st August 2020, and we will be providing orientation and training specifically for the educators, parents, students and support staff members of these institutions. The sessions begin on 1st September, 2020 with a focus on the online platforms, specifically, in the areas of Power School, the VIDE textbooks full usage, and Google classroom for assessment, evaluations and lesson planning.
On 7th September, as Minister, I will speak to all educators as I outline my strategic direction for the school year and declare the official school year opened. This will be followed by a Professional Day for Educators. The rest of that week will be used for Professional Development Planning and Preparation for the new school year. During the week of the 14th – 18th September, we will be conducting our Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and our Student Orientation, and on 21st September classes will begin for all public schools.
The training and preparation for the upcoming term will have a very heavy emphasis on COVID-19 protocols and online pedagogy. We will partner with the Ministry of Health, specifically the Environmental Health Unit to run training sessions for staff and students. We wish to ensure that all educators and students understand the COVID-19 protocol and the role they must play in keeping our Territory safe. We must also provide psychosocial support for educators and children going through tough times as well as tackle stigma and discrimination as it pertains to COVID cases.
Certainly, I am aware of the challenges associated with online schooling, but given the threats to our health, it is the best alternative for educating our children. I continue to ask for employers to understand the plight of parents with school-aged children; I continue to ask families and trusted individuals to make arrangements for these students’ supervision. We continue to dialogue with internet service providers for solutions to our connectivity problems, and we continue to thank donors who have provided laptops as we await our shipment of 500 devices.
More information on the reopening of schools will be forthcoming from the Ministry.
Now is the time to dig deep as a community. COVID-19 is big and bad, but our GOD is bigger! Let’s tap into the divine source to find the resilience and endurance needed to conquer this monstrous pandemic. May God bless this beautiful Virgin Islands and keep us safe!