Education Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley has announced that Cabinet has decided to reopen some local schools to specific categories of students.
He said Cabinet agreed that “access should be granted to students in senior grades who are preparing for and/or sitting standardized exams, or with special requirements”.
Dr Wheatley made that announcement in a statement on Sunday, May 31; noting that some groups of students are “not being adequately served”, despite the ministry’s efforts to facilitate online learning programmes.
He said the particularly disadvantaged students include children with special needs, technical students, marginalised students, students preparing to sit standardised exams, and some adult education students.
In the meantime, the minister said some precautions and protocols will have to be followed before students are made to re-enter the physical classroom setting.
For example, he said students must have access to classrooms on a staggered schedule to enable safe distancing protocols. Specific steps must also be taken to ensure adequate social distancing.
The minister further noted that hygiene measures must be adhered to and that classroom equipment and tools such as desk, chairs, tables, and doors are properly disinfected between staggered sessions.
Inspections and certifications before reopening
Schools should be inspected and certified by the Chief Environmental Health Officer, before opening, Dr Wheatley added.
These protocols have been outlined in a new Public Health COVID-19 Control & Suppression Measures Order which takes effect tomorrow, Tuesday, June 2.
“I cannot emphasize enough, as we allow this limited number of students to access our physical school structures, safety is our number 1 priority. In consideration of such a decision was underpinned by a comprehensive look at guidance of international, regional, and local bodies. Ministry officials engaged UNICEF’S Framework for Reopening Schools which requires that the following six (6) key dimensions be used to assess their states of readiness and inform planning: policy, financing, safe operations, learning, reach the most marginalised and well-being/protection,” Dr Wheatley said.
BVI following regional and int’l guidelines
And while saying he understands that some parents still prefer their children to remain home at this time, he assured that his ministry is following the guidelines set out by regional and international organisations as it relates to the reopening of schools.
He said these organisations include the Caribbean Public Health Agency, UNICEF, the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organisation, among others.
“The COVID-19 threat is fluid, and, therefore, this plan is constantly being evaluated against local conditions, cabinet decisions along with other factors. It is envisioned that moving into the future, even beyond COVID-19, we will utilize a blended approach of online and face to face education, and public will be kept informed as we adjust to shifting circumstances,” Dr Wheatley said.