#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands – August 9, 2020 — Covid-19 forced school campuses across the Turks and Caicos to be closed since Easter but Government has squandered that five-months and is not ready with an approved plan for Education in the new normal; thousands are disappointed as school is proposed to begin in three weeks.
“For the past couple of months we have been working with them to establish protocols with the best practice methods to getting children back in schools,” said Edwin Astwood, Minister of Health, Agriculture, Sports & Human Services when asked about his partnership with the Education.
It was a reply, bereft of details when school reopening has already been announced for August 31.
Frustrating for families and schools is that despite the sacrifices to follow Emergency Orders and coronavirus health protocols, they are still facing the 2020-2021 academic year with uncertainty.
A two-week Easter break turned into months and months away from traditional learning for thousands of students, their teachers and faculty. It also transformed homes into schools; many parents admittedly were ill-equipped to balance working from home or having no work at all and becoming teacher extraordinaire.
On Friday, during a press conference, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education – who were both present – could offer no plan and no assurances about what learning at school campuses will look like for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The plan was not ready for presentation at the press conference, which was carried live on local TV and social media. The plan has also not been presented to any schools, anywhere across the country – public or private.
There are 42 schools nationwide. The Minister of Education, Karen Malcolm will begin touring and consulting with schools this week. It was said an update will also be given by the Minister within the week.
“We have been doing consultation throughout, but we are doing a wider consultation as to where persons minds are,” said Premier Sharlene Robinson.
“We are aware that people are eager, we are also aware that parents have determined themselves that their children will not be coming into the physical space. Let us be real in Turks and Caicos, we cannot achieve social distancing with the numbers of children we have in classes, so we need to take a unique approach to what we have existing in Turks and Caicos.”
These illustrated uncertainties underscore the dire need for the process of reopening to have long been started.
Regionally, Education Ministers had begun sharing their strategies for a return to school since June.
“The Minister would have presented protocols and a reopening strategy to Cabinet; she will be going out with her team to consult but again we are watching what is happening around the world, this is dynamic. We can plan but things can change. The Minister has already highlighted some of the concerns we have but there will be consultation in this week,” said Premier Sharlene Robinson.
In Jamaica, there is a staggered approach, including a simulation day to test whether ideas on paper will actually work.
In the Cayman Islands, a School Reopening Guidance document has been available online since June 24; it addresses start dates and learning styles for students from preschool age.
School re-openings are delicate in this post-COVID world.
Institutions will have to ensure there is proper physical distancing; increased janitorial services; sufficient handwashing stations; protection especially for those with underlying health conditions; adequate personal protective gear; clear and consistent communication and they must ensure the environments remain conducive to quality learning experiences and healthy social development for all.
Even the most persnickety precautions can be undermined by one COVID-19 infected person.
It therefore seems a high-risk roll of the dice by the Ministries responsible for education, youth, health and sports to have not focused greater attention on a reopening plan, which by now would have been shared with the public and supported by a public information campaign. Very easily, the leading place to contract COVID-19 in the Turks and Caicos Islands could shift from workplaces to school campuses; a lesson even the most astute student would want to avoid.