Students at Chatsworth All Age and Infant

No Need to Reopen Schools in a Rush, Says JTA President

Publication Date: 
Thursday, November 19, 2020

Students at Chatsworth All-Age and Infant School, one of the 17 schools participating in the Government's face-to-face pilot for resumption of classes, queue as they observe social distancing last week. (Photo: Anthony Lewis)

LUCEA, Hanover — President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Jasford Gabriel has asserted that there is no need to rush to reopen schools for face-to-face learning.

He said there is a possibility that apart from the 17 schools that were reopened as part of a two-week pilot last week, more schools could be reopened. However, the JTA is monitoring the situation, he said.

“We still don't believe there needs to be a rush, as far as getting back into face-to-face arrangement is concerned. We want to ensure that all the health protocols are very much in place for that to happen. And so, we will continue to monitor that as far as COVID is concerned,” said Gabriel.

He was addressing a JTA half-yearly meeting in Hanover via the Zoom platform. The meeting is one of two that took place yesterday. The other was in Trelawny.

The JTA president argued that it is challenging to have online classes and as such, some teachers would prefer face-to-face engagement. However, he said teachers have to be wise in navigating the pandemic, stressing that online learning is the best way to do so until COVID-19 is brought under control.

“For safety purposes, and just to be wise as we go through this pandemic, we have to make sure that we stay safe, and most of that has to do with teaching online until we get greater control of this pandemic,” he reasoned.

In supporting his argument, he disclosed that some schools are without an isolation area, which is critical for separating individuals who may come down with novel coronavirus-related illnesses.

He noted that “while this is one of the things that the JTA is looking out for, this is something that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has to sign off on before face-to-face engagement can take place”.

On October 5, schools were reopened for the new academic year with a continuation of students accessing lessons virtually, through the ministry's online learning management system, free-to-air television and radio.

However, the Government resumed face-to-face classes last week with 17 schools across the island.

Last week Friday, Education Minister Fayval Williams said that more schools are being assessed to facilitate face-to-face learning at the end of the pilot project.

The JTA president said the position of the association has always been that face-to-face instructions must be guided by public health. He added that the disaster risk management approach must be used in determining when it is feasible to reopen schools.

“And so, it will have to take into consideration many things, including the community spread, the communities from which students are travelling, the incidents of COVID cases in the different areas where our teachers are travelling from, [and] the extent to which they are exposed.

“And so, that is why we would have said no initially to face-to-face, when it was proposed for October 5, because we were not convinced that the Ministry of Health was fully on board, and that all the necessary precautions would have been in place to address the concerns that can affect the health and wellness of our stakeholders. And so, we continue to monitor that situation as we go along,” the JTA boss said.

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