The reopening of schools is weeks away on April tenth; it comes just before the re-opening of the Philip Goldson International Airport which can usher in new cases of the COVID-19.  So there is trepidation over the risk that children may be facing. But at an event today by the Ministry of Education, general managers of schools say they have put all protocols in place to minimize any risks to the children. Here is News Five’s Duane Moody with a report.

Duane Moody, Reporting

The readiness of students, parents and even teachers for the reopening of schools on August tenth is not without apprehension given the COVID-19 reality.

E’Jahmor Lopez, Education Centre Manager, Cayo

“Everybody has a right and an opinion and you will never ever be able to satisfy everyone—everybody will never ever be in agreement—but as I mentioned earlier, once we have everything in place, we should proceed with the business of educating our young people. I have no doubt that there might be a percentage of teachers for whatever reason—whether their concern is legitimate or not—who are saying that probably they are not ready and for some they may never ever be ready with all that we will have in place. But speaking for the Cayo District, I know that that is not the reality.”

Today, at the ITVET in Belize City, general managers for government schools as well as denominational primary schools met with the senior management of the Ministry of Education to discuss their preparedness, given the complexity of the situation.  General Manager of the Catholic Public Schools, Gayle Thompson says that they manage one hundred and thirteen primary schools spread throughout the country, including some preschools. While it is not without its challenges given the new norm, Thompson says that they are ready.

Gayle Thompson, General Manager, Catholic Public Schools

“The Ministry of Education gave us some guidelines and we have been in discussion for quite a period of time in looking at protocols and procedures that we must follow in order to get our schools ready to receive children in a safe environment for whenever that date has been set.  Our school administrators and our assistant managers have been working with the schools, and the principals, the teachers to put the protocols advised to us in the guidelines presented by the ministry to get all of those items in place to be ready for the tenth of August.”

Raymond Shepherd, General Manager, Nazarene Primary Schools

“This is a new phenomenon and it is fluid. We continue to prepare. Our principals and their staff along with parents have met and have come up with a reopening plan that is unique to their own schools. This is an ongoing process and so while we believe that we are ready to open school if it was today, we do have a plan to open; it will require that we continuously review and adjust our plans to meet whatever challenges we are confronted with in each of our respective schools.”

It comes with a level of investment which the schools had not budgeted for—ensuring that sanitization stations are installed on the compound; that social distancing is practiced and that the classrooms are properly sanitized. Raymond Shepherd represents the Nazarene Primary School Management. The schools they manage are scattered across the Cayo, Belize and Corozal Districts.

Raymond Shepherd

“For the most part, our schools are able to meet the financial challenges that have come about as a consequence of COVID-19, wherein there may be one or two schools in our system which are challenged financially, I must thank the Ministry of Education for coming to our aid.”

Gayle Thompson

“This is a new and unprecedented time. Those expenses were far from budgeted for. We had to put sanitization processes and practices in place; we have to put wash basins where we didn’t have to have them in the past. So it is coming with quite an additional expense.”

Duane Moody

“But nevertheless you guys would be ready for August tenth?”

Gayle Thompson

“We have been working very hard and we are on track to be ready for August tenth. We have had support from our parents, in some cases from our communities and the teachers and administrators themselves have been working hard to find all the necessary items required by the ministry and for ourselves to be satisfied that schools will be opened safely on August tenth.”

Infrastructure aside, what method will be employed for lessons at the primary school level?

Raymond Shepherd

“There are a number of methods that are being adopted. Yes for some of our schools, a shift system would have to be employed. That shift system may be we bring in some students for half of the day; that shift system may be we bring in students maybe two three days at a time and then we go on a rotation basis. Some of our schools, we can carry on as per normal because the class sizes are such that we are able to have full attendance, five days a week.”

E’Jahmor Lopez

“Look at a school like Holy Redeemer, it is impossible for them to employ the same method that Fire Burn will be employing. They certainly would have to utilize a shift system. We have provided the guidelines and managing authorities along with administrations and staff will have to look carefully at what will work for them. The plan is flexible enough for individual schools to customise it to meet their individual needs. And as the ministry, we are here to support them and once we get that plan, we will review it, make recommendations and we go from there.”

While students will be accepted at schools on August tenth, teachers are to report to school one week earlier, on August third, for requisite preparatory work. Duane Moody for News Five.

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