Mask-wearing in schools not mandatory, but recommended

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Chief Education officer Dr Peter Smith.

Wearing face masks in schools will no longer be mandatory in the upcoming 2022/2023 academic school year. This was announced by Chief Education Officer Dr Peter Smith on Monday.

But Smith said while mask-wearing will no longer be mandatory, it will remain necessary.

He was speaking at the Ministry of Education’s news conference at its St Vincent Street office to give an update on the preparedness for reopening of schools.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said principals can use their discretion in managing mask-wearing at schools.

“By law, citizens are not required to wear masks. However, we are highly recommending masking in schools. So principals are given the flexibility if there are particular areas that they believe the risk is too high to end mandating masking.

“We are asking parents to make that decision if their child wants to come to school with a mask, which is not an issue.”

In August 2020, health authorities implemented the mask mandate along with several other public health policies to reduce the spread of covid19.

With the decline in hospitalisation, deaths and cases in 2022, the government ended the mandate on July 17.

However, regular covid19 screening and sanitisation will continue at schools.

Staff and students with flu-like symptoms must remain at home but are not expected to provide a negative covid19 test result to return to classes. Those with chronic medical conditions who present with flu-like symptoms must provide a doctor’s note at the beginning of the school year.

Less than a week before schools reopen, the ministry said it is ready for a smooth resumption of physical classes for all early childhood care and education, primary and secondary students on September 5.

The ministry said work on 337 schools identified for urgent plumbing, sewage and electrical infrastructural repairs for the July/August period is ongoing.

Schools which are still under repairs by September 5 will still be reopened, but contractors have prioritised 130 of these projects to have critical work done in the shortest timeframe. These repairs will be done outside school hours and on weekends.

Though ministry officials could not give a breakdown of how many schools are ready and how many are still being repaired, Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry is doing all in its power to prevent any disruption during the reopening.

The budget for these repairs is $45 million.

A total of 305,000 students and a little over 30,100 teachers are expected to return to physical classes for the upcoming term.

The ministry also said a total of 18,290 pieces of furniture have been procured for 100 secondary schools, and 3,222 more will be delivered to 130 primary schools.

Tendering for additional furniture has already started.