TTUTA, Maha Sabha: Teachers can’t control physical distancing off compound

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas. –

PRESIDENT of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) Antonia Tekah-De Freitas and Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Vijay Maharaj are both saying that teachers have complained that students are not following the physical distancing rules once they leave the school compound.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Tekah-De Freitas said this was all a matter of discipline.

She said while on the school compound teachers are able to ensure the physical distancing rules are kept, once students leave the school, teachers are powerless.

“If you can do it on the compound (physical distance), why can’t you do it off the compound,” she asked. “Parents need to impress upon their children the importance of physical distancing as we are still very much in the grip of the pandemic. It is a matter of personal responsibility, in every space.”

She said during consultations with the education minister, even prior to the reopening of schools for vaccinated and unvaccinated forms 4-6 students, teachers and stakeholders indicated that enforcing of covid19 health protocols would be an issue.

“It is (happening in) all schools across the board. It is out of our hands. The most we can do is encourage children to abide by the rules.”

For his part, Maharaj said teachers are doing their best to maintain physical distancing protocols in schools, but are limited in their control once students leave. “Teachers are doing everything they possibly can on the compound…but the minute students leave, it’s problems.”

Maharaj said the matter has been addressed with the ministry.

He referenced the recent outbreak of covid19 at Iere High School in Siparia where two students tested positive for the virus forcing 60 others to be placed in quarantine.

Maharaj said, “They are being bashed for not following orders, but they are. It’s when the students leave the compound that’s the problem. We don’t anticipate any outbreak, but this thing is happening outside the school.”

He said students haven’t seen each other in 18 months and are excited to be back. “They want to reacquaint. They want the physical interaction. Nobody took this into consideration. How do we deal with it?” He said the ministry has said it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to determine how to handle this situation.

SDMS Secretary General Vijay Maharaj. –

“We can only try to explain what is going on…We can tell the students what to do, but thereafter, we have very little control,” Maharaj said.

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, in a WhatsApp message to Newsday, said, “Students must continue to be encouraged by teachers and parents to take personal responsibility for their safety during the pandemic.”

She said the ministry held a stakeholder meeting on October 28 for feedback on school operations with the return of all forms 4-6 students to the physical classroom.

She said 60 per cent of schools indicated they do not have the physical capacity, given physical distancing protocols, to accommodate all forms 4-6 students physically at the same time and 65 per cent of schools are operating on rotation with approximately 17,000 students expected to be in physical classes on any given day.

“Of this expected number, the average turnout is 70 per cent with denominational schools having an average of 82 per cent daily attendance and government schools at 65 per cent.”

She said based on rotational schedules, most schools operate in hybrid mode. “All schools are mandated to maintain safety protocols, and there are clear guidelines for the management of situations involving covid19.

“The staff of the Education District Health Unit (EDHU) has been working closely with schools to manage and provide further guidance and assistance where necessary.”

“It is expected that as schools continue to operate during the pandemic, there will be a continuous need to provide careful management of the covid19-related matters which are expected to arise,” she said.

She said the EDHU, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and relevant departments of the Ministry of Education, will continue to ensure health and safety measures are met.