JTA calls for ‘safety tags’ for schools

THE Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) is disappointed that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has not yet provided an official update to the nation on the status of secondary schools — which have been reopened to prepare students for regional exit exams in July — in relation to public health.

JTA President Owen Speid is suggesting that the ministry assess institutions and designate them according to health safety levels.

“We believe it is not the best thing to have had schools reopened and the Ministry of Health didn’t make a public statement to the nation as to how ready the schools were… At this time we would want to recommend that the Ministry of Health goes through these secondary schools and put something like a safety tag, to say this school is marked safe for return, so that there is no question about it,” he explained.

Speid was speaking with the Jamaica Observer on Monday against the background of last week’s reopening of secondary schools to facilitate students who will be sitting Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) papers next month.

Speid said the JTA was particularly concerned about a media report on the weekend that 17 schools in St Catherine had been found lacking in the required health safety protocols. He pointed out that the figure represents 70 per cent of schools in St Catherine and is, therefore, of serious concern to the JTA.

Despite the concern, he said the JTA gave passing grades to the secondary institutions it toured last week for having the proper sanitisation facilities and for execution of the mandated health safety protocols.

He said most systems were in order at the nine schools the JTA team visited in the Corporate Area

“We could give them a passing grade at least, [and] some of them were excellent,” he said.

Speid said, too, that the JTA team also visited schools in St Ann, and that the majority of the health safety requirements were in place at those institutions as well.

However, he said the JTA is still calling on the Government to suspend the virtual learning protocol prior to the planned, full reopening of schools in September, in order to undertake logistics and management planning.

“We [believe] that they should have ended the virtual teaching from probably a month ago and get into planning and training mode for the teachers and the children, and even their parents. That’s what we should have done – look at gathering resources and look at where we need to improve facilities,” he stressed.

Secondary schools were reopened on June 8 to enable students to prepare for the exit examinations, which are scheduled to begin on July 13. Schools were ordered closed in the second week of March, after the country recorded its first few cases of COVID-19, as part of measures to curtail the spread of the virus. This saw CSEC/CAPE students being released about three weeks before the usual study break ahead of the secondary school exit exams.

Some school administrators disagreed with the decision of the Caribbean Examinations Council to go ahead with the exams in July, citing inadequate preparation and the mental state of students as some of their reasons, while others felt there was no justifiable reason to put off the exams, given that students would have already completed most of their course work for the exams before schools were closed. They also noted the possible adverse effects on matriculation and access to scholarships to overseas tertiary institutions.

It was originally proposed for the CSEC and CAPE examinations to start on July 27, but the commencement date was brought forward after consultations between the leadership of the Overseas Examinations Commission and regional and local stakeholders in the education system.

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