TTUTA Tobago: Where are covid19 protocols for schools?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

TTUTA Tobago officer Bradon Roberts. File photo/David Reid

TTUTA Tobago officer Bradon Roberts believes the THA Divisions of Education, Research and Technology and Health, Wellness and Social Protection must produce a plan to address rising covid19 cases at schools in Tobago.

His call came in the wake of Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh’s revelation that 288 covid19 cases were recorded among students and teaching staff across the country’s 243 schools between April 25 and 29.

At the ministry’s virtual news briefing on Wednesday, Deyalsingh said the Ministry of Education had provided the figures. He promised to share more statistics from schools as they become available.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said any decision to reimplement restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus would be done after holistic consideration of the effects of such a move.

On Thursday, Roberts said he does not have current figures for students and teachers who have been infected with the virus on the island, but has been receiving complaints from teachers about rising covid19 cases at their respective schools.

“We are hearing about positive cases on the ground – but not from the officials. And that is where the concern is, if I have to take numbers, it would just be hearsay numbers,” he told Newsday.

He said several teachers have told him they tested positive for covid19 and were going into quarantine.

“There is no system in place if you have five out of 12 teachers in a small school, for example, testing positive. How does a school function? Who gives that guidance? There is no substitute teacher in the system.”

Roberts claimed principals have been telling affected teachers they have the option to resume online engagement.

“That is a smart way of forcing people to, even when they are on quarantine, engage online teaching.”

He said online teaching must be negotiated.

“It is not that TTUTA is against online instruction, but parameters must be set so that teachers know how they are supposed to operate, and not just take instructions willy-nilly with online engagement.”

Roberts wants a strategy put in place quickly to monitor the infection rate in schools.

Saying the system is overwhelmed, Roberts said the covid19 protocols in place before the full reopening of schools last month appear to have fallen flat.

“It appears as though we are flying blind, based on the feedback I am getting from teachers every day. What we had before was the health team.”Under that system, once there was information on a case, he said, the team would contact the school, do contact tracing with parents and notify them of possible cases or who needs to quarantine.

“That has since collapsed,” he said. “What we are getting now are parents telling a teacher, ‘Well, my child test positive, so I am keeping him or her home.’

“We are not getting guidance from either the division or the health team, because with the protocols, the health team was the one to direct schools as to when to close, when to sanitise, when to reopen, because they were managing that.”

Now, he said, schools are not getting guidance.

Roberts argued teachers should not have to rely on the honesty of parents to determine whether or not their children had covid19.

“I would have heard the assistant secretary (Orlando Kerr) calling for parents to keep home their children if they are ill. But that is a call that principals should be making.

“His call should be for the health and OSH team to step up in their protocols, so that if there are parents who desire for their children to be in school, despite they are ill or not, we should have systems in place to prevent that from happening.”

The problem of covid19 in schools is compounded by infrastructural issues, he said.

“So the fact that we don’t have the requisite furniture, various challenges with termites in schools, the compromise we are making is also (causing) increased risk in terms of our students and the covid19 protocol.”