STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
UPDATE ON THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2020
Good day and God’s blessings to all. As we continue in our fight against this global pandemic, which has crippled economies across the globe and shutdown schools from the east to the west, it is important we adopt a spirit of thanksgiving for how God has kept us safe. Our health officials have worked hard to keep up safe, and for this we are grateful. The cooperation of the public has been key in our fight against COVID-19, and I kindly ask that we do not get weary in well-doing. Stay safe by following the protocols of wearing our masks, hand washing frequently and practicing social distancing.
In my last statement on 18th September, where I provided an update on the reopening of schools, I informed you that Cabinet had decided to instruct the Attorney General's Chambers to amend the Suppression Order No. 6 to allow private schools, daycare centres, pre-schools and colleges to open for in-school instruction where approved, following inspection by the Social Monitoring Task Force and the Ministry of Education, and in compliance with the Social Distancing Protocols of six feet and sanitisation measures. Additionally, Cabinet had decided to allow public schools to open for in-school instruction for special groups of students, namely:
i. technical education students;
ii. students with special needs;
iii. marginalised students; and
iv. adult education students, as specified and approved by the Chief Education Officer.
Today, I am pleased to announce that at Cabinet at a special meeting on 19th October, decided that all schools be granted permission to be opened in a phased approach, provided that they adhere to established health and social distancing guidelines, with dates of each phase to be determined by the Chief Education Officer and the Environmental Health Division, in consultation with the Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture.
This is good news. The Ministry of Education has been given the green light to phase in all students in public schools by grade levels in the way which best suits their circumstance and which will ensure the best for the students in attendance.
I wish to state that while preparations for six feet social distancing measures have been ongoing at schools, given the number of students in classes, it will not be possible to accommodate all students at the same time like we did prior to the pandemic.
We are therefore proposing a phased timeline for the remaining groups of students as follows:
- During the week of Monday, 26th October – Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2; Specific reporting days will be communicated by the respective principals.
- Monday, 9th November – Grades 3 – 6; Grades 10 – 12; and
- Monday 4th January – Grades 7 – 9.
The Ministry proposes a blended/hybrid learning model of instruction in schools. This means that schools that can accommodate all their students with the physical distancing guidelines may operate fully on-site, while incorporating some on-line learning. Other schools must engage a staggered schedule or shift system to ensure the best results.
Blended/hybrid learning is a mix of traditional face to face classroom instruction with mobile learning and on-line activities which are both individualised and student centred. Even in the classroom, I wish to emphasise that schools should continue to engage students through a series of online interactive sessions utilising Cisco Webex, Zoom online platform, Class Dojo, Facebook, Whats App, Instagram, Google teams, and Google Hangout, combined with the Google Classroom, emails, and Power School for sending and receiving assignments.
The use of technology in every classroom has been our goal. COVID–19 forced us as an education system to make some significant strides upon which we want to continue to build. We are depending on the principals to ensure that this happens on a daily basis in the schools. Laptops and tablets are now expected to be used frequently in the classroom.
Educators and parents of students with underlying conditions or home conditions must seek and obtain permission from the principal to operate away from school for a portion or all of the period in which blended learning is taking place.
The schools shall be prepared appropriately to accommodate students during the days of on-site classes. Clear demarcations must be placed separating the spaces for each student. Wash basins must be visible for hand washing and sanitisers must be in all classrooms for on-going sanitisation throughout the day.
For the onsite classes, the proper dress code will be enforced. For any exception, permission must be granted by the principal of the school. Students must also come with the proper tools and the right attitude for learning.
All persons on school campuses must wear a mask or face shield. Students are expected to come to onsite classes with a mask or shield, and their personal bottle of hand sanitiser.
Visitors to school campuses will be restricted. Each school will decide how visitors will be accommodated with the restricted guidelines. School schedules will be outlining lunch and break periods and having them occur in a staggered manner to ensure a control of students gathering in groups.
It will be required for students to carry a packed lunch, or parents should make the necessary arrangements for lunch to be delivered to the child at the school as school vendors will not be available on campus during this phase.
Additionally, we are appealing to parents to assume responsibility for transporting students to and from school between October 26th and November 6th There will be training sessions for bus drivers in the week of the Monday 2nd November through the 6th November, and on November 9th, socially distanced bus service will be available for those in need.
Parents, your supervisory role is essential to the students’ success. As classes will continue on-line on some days, I urge you not to neglect to monitor and ensure that your children stay on task with their schoolwork. Establish the routine of getting up and preparing for school as you would normally do. Further, you must ensure that your children attend school and work conscientiously throughout the day to master the content of each subject being taught.
Students, parents, teachers, principals and the Ministry all have major roles in the success of this school year. We must have an open mind, be flexible and positive. We are in this together and we will navigate these uncharted waters together. I appeal to employers to assist us by allowing some flexibility to employees who have school-aged children. With the blended learning approach, onsite learning will be combined with some online learning and students at home may require parental supervision. I crave your support.
We are praying and hoping that we will have a smooth transition during this next phase. I continue to ask for the continued patience of everyone as we continue to navigate these unchartered waters. We value the education of our students and are equally concerned about their continued safety.
The Ministry continues to ensure that all of the key stakeholders are prepared for this next phase of our reopening. We previously conducted special training for our custodial workers and will be convening another session for them tomorrow. There will also be special orientation sessions for the students who will be returning to their campuses.
Despite the challenges, I remain hopeful and thankful. There will be problems, but with faith in God and hard work, we will conquer those challenges together. God bless you, and God bless these beautiful Virgin Islands.