More than 50 church halls said to be available for school use
More than 50 churches are said to have committed to assist the Government in its quest to provide additional space for children who are scheduled to return to schools in September and who will need to abide by social distancing protocols in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 on the island.
Education Minister, Karl Samuda, made the announcement on Tuesday during his contribution to the 2020-2021 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives. Samuda said the ministry is in the final stages of preparation for the upcoming academic year in September.
“The ministry has done the research and collected the data on the needs of schools and we have started to identify additional spaces for our students to allow for continued social distancing. We have been in dialogue with a number of churches to use their halls and other available spaces, and we want to thank our church leaders for responding to this national need. Across the seven regions, more than 52 churches so far have made their halls available at request. We are negotiating with others,” Samuda stated.
He said nearly 30 per cent of schools currently function under capacity and can therefore operate with the existing spaces they have, while others have opted to use tents.
The education minister said the ministry has also entered into partnership agreements with 39 private institutions to accommodate some students.
He said schools are developing their individual plans for re-opening in September, and administrators have been guided to rearrange the seating in all classrooms in keeping with the social/physical distancing guidelines, and to modify the timetable to ensure that teachers are appropriately deployed to attend to the students.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) having shuttered schools since March 13, Samuda said psychosocial sessions must also be on the timetable for all students to help them cope with the changes imposed on them as a result of the pandemic.
“All schools will have a psychosocial programme in place supported by the guidance counsellors, deans of discipline, school nurses, HFLE teachers and officers in the regions, as well as social workers. Students will be immersed in this programme for the first month of school. The programme will continue until the end of the school year,” said Samuda.
Additionally, the minister said special consideration will be given to staff and students with comorbidities or underlying health conditions.
Schools are also to develop plans for the use and distribution of basic equipment and materials needed for sanitisation purposes, such as temperature check devices, handwashing solutions/stations, masks, alcohol, sanitisers and other personal protective equipment.
Staff members are also ton be deployed to clean and sanitise school buildings, classrooms and other facilities prior to the resumption of school and according to a daily routine while school is in operation.
Staff and students are to receive training on the importance of social/physical distancing and other precautionary/hygiene practices to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. More than 13,000 members of staff have already been trained and each school is required to develop a monitoring mechanism to ensure that precautionary measures are not compromised.
In the meantime, Samuda said each school has been provided with between $500,000 and $1 million to commence preparations for reopening in September. Secondary institutions have been provided with $600,000 each to procure furniture, while the ministry has commenced the procurement of furniture for primary schools. The provisions are in addition to the regular grants that are provided to schools in April and June, which are said to amount to over $2.8 billion nationally.