Preparing for a New School Year Amid COVID-19

A new academic year is set to begin on August tenth, after five months of leave from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of the reopening of schools however, there are many concerns being raised by parents and students alike. Those anxieties include social distancing, the sanitization of classrooms, as well as hygiene practices that will now be enforced at every institution. The resources necessary to carry out these measures are being provided by the Ministry of Education which has been receiving assistance from organizations such as UNICEF. Earlier today, Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer, mentioned a list of agencies that have been working closely with government in providing the necessary sanitation supplies.

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer

“The Ministry of Education is not leaving the managements on their own. We have sought assistance from many agencies. UNICEF has agreed to give us a hundred and twenty thousand dollars in sanitization supplies and those supplies will be shared with primary schools across the country. We also have the Ministry of Health and they have promised to give us fourteen, they have already given us fourteen drums of hand washing liquid and again, that will be shared with every school in each district. BEL has committed to fifty thousand dollars in supplies and in whatever we may consider necessary, whether it be hand washing basins, supplies or whatever the schools would like us to help with. So I just want to assure the entire public that the Ministry of Education is not leaving all of these requests on the management. We realize this is a very trying time, everyone is being faced with economic hardship but MOE, the Ministry of Education, is doing, we are doing our best to support our schools to ensure that schools are a safe place.”

All Schools will have Sanitization Sessions

Among the measures that will be implemented at the classroom level is a daily sanitization of individual seating areas. According to Dr. Babb, there will also be someone stationed at the entrance of every school building to ensure that proper procedures, including hand washing are followed prior to entering the compound.

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer

“Classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected daily and between sessions and breaks. Regular hand washing and other hygiene practices will be implemented. Students’ desks or their furniture will be seated three to six feet apart while in class. In cases where all students can’t be accommodated, especially in very big schools, they will have to implement a shift system or an alternate day or week. And that is something that the managements will submit to the ministry and we will review those and advise them. We are also going to ensure that at the entrance of a school there is someone who will monitor those who enter the school. There will be a sanitization session where they will have to wash their hands and there will be paper towels available to ensure that we are practicing safety measures.”

Fewer Students in the Classroom in New School Year

COVID-19 has also prompted school managements to put in place specific protocols that relate to children coming down with the seasonal flu. Aside from those procedures, Chief Executive Officer, Deborah Domingo, of the Ministry of Education, also emphasized that there will be fewer children in the classroom this upcoming school year and a scheduling system will be introduced by the respective general managements.

Deborah Domingo, CEO, Ministry of Education

“During school time certain parts of the year, children come home and they come down with the cold or the flu several times during the year and it is for those reasons these measures are being put in place. Note that what we are asking for is because of this very unprecedented threat we’re experiencing with COVID-19. But as a matter of practice there should be some protocols in place in schools to reduce the risk of infection. With COVID-19 because it is so, so high-stakes parents should expect that the classrooms will have fewer children because they need to be socially distanced. Many children don’t get to wash their hands as frequently as we are asking them to.”

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer

“And remember, CEO, in our management meeting we spoke to regular hand washing, meaning that as soon as the children come into the classroom they will hand wash before break, after break, after they visit the bathroom, before going to lunch. So we are expecting that they will do hand washing for at least four times per morning. And so this is the new norm, as you rightly said, and we need everyone to come onboard and support the students and the teachers and parents are asked, as you rightly said, to model that kind of behavior at home.”

Face Shields When Teaching Phonics

For children in the lower levels, those in kindergarten and the infant division, the Ministry of Education is advising teachers to wear face shields in instances where certain subjects are being taught, including phonics and reading.

Deborah Domingo, C.E.O., Ministry of Education

“As I said earlier, whatever the regulations say with regards to the use of face covering, that is what we will have to mandate. But we are obviously concerned because particularly at the lower levels, at the early childhood levels the use of the mask may be an impediment. So we are trying to address those issues, but for now we have to be consistent with what the health regulations say and that’s where we are right now. Some people were asking about face shields and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, even for the young ones, if they are not required to use masks and a parent would want them to use the shield, there should be absolutely no objection to that.”

Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer

“And it is recommended that teachers, early childhood teachers could wear face shields because they are teaching subjects like literacy and they have to do pronunciation of words, phonics and the children may need to look at their faces, to look at their mouths to see how the words are pronounced, then a face shield may be more suitable for the purpose.”

Channel 5