Safety confidence as schools begin exam prep

SEVERAL school administrators across the Corporate Area yesterday expressed confidence that measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of students and teachers who returned to the campuses for final preparation for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) 2020 sittings, which begin on July 13.

With security guards armed with thermometers and hand sanitisers manning the entrances to most schools, students, donning face masks, returned yesterday morning to an atmosphere much different from the one they left more than two months ago.

Physical distancing was being repeatedly preached by administrators, security guards, and several teachers who participated in getting the students settled into the “new normal”.

Scores of teachers were seen taking part in the morning’s activities, despite claims by the leadership of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association that many of its members were afraid to return to the classroom in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as some students expressed fear about being back in school while the island continues to record more COVID-19 cases, it appeared that the vast majority were glad to be back with their friends, prompting a tweet from Prime Minister Andrew Holness who urged them not to throw social distancing practices out the window.

“As you see your friends for the first time in months, I know you are excited, but remember to practise social distancing and observe the recommended hygiene practices,” said Holness.

“I understand you may also be nervous about your exams, as the past few months have no doubt been difficult for you. However, I want to encourage you to focus and to do your very best; we are already very proud of each of you,” added Holness.

At Tivoli Gardens High School in west Kingston, Dean of Discipline Carmen Josephs stayed metres from the main entrance as she watched her young charges return to school.

“We are very prepared. The Ministry of Education’s stipulations are in place. The sanitisers, the thermometers, the security guards are out. Teachers will be here and students are coming in, so we are very much prepared,” Josephs told the Jamaica Observer.

She added that the grades 10 and 11 students who are preparing for their exams are scheduled for classes at different times each day, and that should ensure the social distancing rules are followed.

“You have two subjects per day, and that will give us enough time to space out the students where social distancing can be practised,” added Josephs.

At the North Street-based Kingston College, Principal Dave Myrie told the Observer that preparation work was done over the past two weeks for the return of students.

“We had the school deep-cleaned and sanitised, and my senior staff members have been around making sure that they measure up classrooms to make sure they adhere to social distancing. We actually put in two additional hand-washing stations in the school. We have done all that we could do to prepare,” said Myrie.

He added that the staffrooms have also been reconfigured to ensure social distancing, with face shields, masks, sanitisers and everything needed to protect the staff having been provided.

“We have identified isolation areas so that if anything happens persons can be moved into those areas,” added Myrie, as he noted that the chapel would be used to house students between classes.

Myrie had high praises for the members of the parent-teacher association, who he said will provide nurses for the school for the four weeks as the school’s staff nurse resigned recently.

“We have to do what we have to do to get on with our students and to protect our staff,” declared Myrie, who noted that the students would only come into the school for particular subjects at set times.

Classes had not yet started at Kingston Technical High School when the Observer visited yesterday, but Acting Vice-Principal Arthur Pinnock said the central Kingston institution was ready.

Pinnock noted that the students were put through a 15-minute orientation, where the dos and the don’ts were outlined, including the footprints at the main entrance that indicate where students should stand to have their temperatures checked and their hands sanitised before entry.

He said the desks in the classrooms had been placed eight feet apart, instead of the recommended six feet, to accommodate students who might need to remove their face masks during classes the chance to do so.

“We want to see good results in the exams, so we are going to maximise the time we have with them,” said Pinnock.

Other Corporate Area schools, including Excelsior High, Dunoon Technical and Vauxhall High, reported a smooth reopening, while there were no classes at a handful of schools including St George’s College and Ardenne High.

At St George’s, the Observer was told by a security guard at the gate that classes would resume next Monday, but that was not confirmed by any member of the school’s administration.

In the meantime, principal of Ardenne, Nadine Malloy told the Observer that the vast majority of her students who are scheduled to sit external exams participated fully in the online classes after schools were ordered closed by the Government, so there was no need to have them return to school.

According to Malloy, sessions will be arranged for groups as needed.

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