Education Minister: ‘Safe Reopening of Schools’

May 9, 2021 | 0 Comments

Minister of Education Diallo Rabain provided an overview of the plans that have “been put in place to reopen our schools safely for in-person learning.”

Speaking in the House of Assembly, Minister Rabain said, “All staff, no matter what school level, must wear their masks all day. Students at the Middle and Senior Schools must also wear their masks all day; while students at the Preschool and Primary levels will wear their masks only during the times outlined in the Safety and Health protocols.

“The Department of Education has provided school staff with reusable cloth masks and there are measures in place for the provision of disposable masks for staff, if needed. Parents and guardians are responsible for providing masks for their children and we need parents to ensure that children have an extra mask or two in their school bags in the event their mask gets soiled or damaged.

“The saliva screening strategy involves self-administered salvia testing, as a screener, for staff and students, at public and private school sites, in accordance with a schedule that is determined by the Government’s Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory [MDL].

“That schedule will see 25% of each school’s student population who have given consent, saliva tested each week. The results of the saliva tests are available within 48 hours and are sent to each individual’s GP or physician.

“We look forward to a safe reopening of schools on Monday, May 10th,” the Minister added.

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker,

This morning I rise before you and my Honorable colleagues to share the plans that have been put in place to reopen our schools safely for in-person learning, on Monday, May 10th.

Mr. Speaker,

I begin first by thanking our school Principals and Preschool Administrators; our teachers and other school staff; Department of Education officers; and parents and guardians for working together during the past four weeks to provide online teaching, provide guidance and support services, to our students. I acknowledge that there are additional demands placed on staff and parents during remote learning and in recognition of this, I highlight and celebrate their resilience and perseverance with navigating all the different virtual platforms that were used for remote learning with our students.

Mr. Speaker,

Before I continue, I pause here to give a big shout out to all Principals, teachers and staff as Teacher Appreciation Week 2021 comes to a close. Our Principals and teaching staff do a great job throughout the school year and I could not let this week end without publicly acknowledging all of them. I’m sure our parents join with me in extending our appreciation and gratitude to them.

Mr. Speaker,

As our students and staff prepare to return to in-person learning on Monday, the Department of Health has emphasized the need for all students and all staff to adhere strictly to the Safety and Health Protocols for schools. These protocols provide schools with a daily routine structure for applying the Government’s comprehensive prevention and control measures, aimed at protecting staff and students; and, mitigating and reducing the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Mr. Speaker,

The approach used in our school’s safety and health protocols is supported by current research from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. In an April 30th, 2021 article published by this center, recent research findings revealed that “When strict protocols were implemented for preventing, diagnosing, and managing school-associated cases, in-person learning in public schools was not associated with increased prevalence and incidence overall compared with the general community, and secondary transmission was infrequent.” In this regard, Mr. Speaker, as schools prepare to reopen on Monday, it is critically important for staff and students to adhere to all safety and health protocols 100% of the time. This must be the standard, because following the protocols is a contributing factor for ensuring the sustained safety of staff and students.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker,

The Department of Health has emphasized the significance of staff and students wearing masks and wearing them correctly; that is, covering the nose and mouth, and fitting the mask snugly across the nose, cheeks, and chin, to protect others. Our Principals will ensure that this protocol is followed continuously as we reopen our school buildings. All staff, no matter what school level, must wear their masks all day. Students at the Middle and Senior Schools must also wear their masks all day; while students at the Preschool and Primary levels will wear their masks only during the times outlined in the Safety and Health protocols.

Mr. Speaker,

The Department of Education has provided school staff with reusable cloth masks and there are measures in place for the provision of disposable masks for staff, if needed. Parents and guardians are responsible for providing masks for their children and we need parents to ensure that children have an extra mask or two in their school bags in the event their mask gets soiled or damaged. As stated, mask wearing plays a key role in protecting others from the COVID-19 virus.

Mr. Speaker,

It is pleasing to know that there are businesses that recognize the importance of working together to keep our schools safe. This week, the General Manager of Bermuda Cleaning Ltd, Mr. Ryan Faries made a donation of over 1,000 cloth masks for distribution in our public schools. The masks are an assortment having the classic Bermuda Crest, the Bermuda Islands and the Somerset and St. George’s Cup Match themed designs. These masks will be distributed to students with an identified need. Mr. Speaker, when Mr. Faries reached out to me, he stated, “With the upcoming potential reopening of the schools, we think this could be a great time to provide the donation of masks to the Department of Education to help with the safe return to school for kids and teachers.” Mr. Speaker, I thank Mr. Faries and the staff at Bermuda Cleaning Ltd for their very generous donation and for their efforts in support of safe schools. I also invite other businesses to reach out to school Principals or the Department of Education if they would like to donate masks for our students.

Mr. Speaker,

Let me share another safety measure that will be implemented in schools. Just this week Monday, May 3rd I met with the Education Emergency Measures Committee [EEMC] to discuss the introduction of a saliva testing screening strategy for public and private schools. The EEMC is in support of this screening strategy which will help health officials identify persons in our schools who may be COVID-19 positive and asymptomatic. This strategy will also enable health officials to identify exposure risk and put in place the proper protocols needed to isolate individuals who have tested positive. This strategy adds another layer to our efforts to keep our schools as safe as possible.

Mr. Speaker,

The saliva screening strategy involves self-administered salvia testing, as a screener, for staff and students, at public and private school sites, in accordance with a schedule that is determined by the Government’s Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory [MDL]. That schedule will see 25% of each school’s student population who have given consent, saliva tested each week. The results of the saliva tests are available within 48 hours and are sent to each individual’s GP or physician.

Mr. Speaker,

Also, in support of our efforts to keep our schools safe, parents and students were encouraged to participate in self-administered saliva testing this week at Pennos Wharf and Star of India before school reopens on Monday. Several parents are taking advantage of this testing to help keep our schools safe. Additionally, the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory [MDL] has arranged for self-administered saliva testing for staff, students and parents on Saturday, May 8th from 10:00am to 3:00pm, at St. Paul’s Centennial Hall in Hamilton. I ask all parents, students and staff to get tested so that together we make our schools safe.

Mr. Speaker, in closing let me share that the Commissioner of Education is planning to hold Zoom Town Hall meetings with our school staff and parents next week Monday to Thursday during the evenings, to share details about the saliva testing strategy and to answer any questions that they have. Representatives from the MDL will also be at the meetings to answer questions. More detailed information will be sent directly to parents via The Scoop newsletter which they receive directly from the Department of Education.

Mr. Speaker,

We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff in our schools and I thank Officers in the Department of Health and the team at the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory for working with the Department of Education to help keep our schools safe. We look forward to a safe reopening of schools on Monday, May 10th. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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