Wed | Oct 28, 2020

NO FACE TO FACE - Principals reject Oct 5 in-person classes

Published:Monday | September 21, 2020 | 12:15 AMRomario Scott and Leon Jackson/Gleaner Writers
JTA President Jasford Gabriel.
JTA President Jasford Gabriel.
Linvern Wright, president of JAPSS.
Linvern Wright, president of JAPSS.
Nadine Molloy, principal of Ardenne High.
Nadine Molloy, principal of Ardenne High.
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School administrators are opposed to face-to-face classes come October 5 even as the education ministry is contemplating whether some institutions could have normal operations amid a deadly wave of COVID-19.

The Fayval Williams-led ministry said on Friday that it was fashioning a vulnerability index to assess school reopening based on geoinformatics, demographics, and health data.

The plan, according to the ministry, would include varied approaches, including face-to-face class engagement and remote learning.

The Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) and the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS) have representatives on the newly established e-COVID-19 Task Force examining ways for the education sector to function amid the coronavirus.

However, the heads of both associations are already making it clear that the proposal to have face-to-face schooling resume is a non-starter.

President of JAPSS, Linvern Wright, told The Gleaner that his group would be averse to the proposed paradigm.

“This is in light of the obvious spike in deaths and infections associated with COVID-19,” he told The Gleaner.

“The formula for selective reopening is flawed given that Jamaica is an interconnected country. We have no faith in the formula grounded in geoinformatics and believe that using such a formula is ill-advised,” Wright charged.

President of the JTA, Jasford Gabriel, said that while he understood the value of face-to-face classes, the technicalities and the contemplations made it almost impossible to accomplish at this time.

“We think that the risk factor is far, far greater than if we were to continue online. We watch what is happening with the rising cases with the pandemic,” Gabriel said.

“We still have to remember that when the first case identified on March 10, we closed the school system. Now we are having cases in the region of 200 per day and so on.”

That pronouncement referred to the disclosure by the Ministry of Health and Wellness that a one-day record-high seven people had died from COVID-19 on Saturday. Total deaths are now 67, while infections are near 5,000.

Juliet Wilson, a 25-year career educator who was vice-principal of Kingston College and who had reportedly contracted the disease, died on the weekend. It is not immediately clear if the virus caused her death.

TRAVEL RISK

Weighing in on the suggestion that schools in low-risk areas be allowed to reopen, the JTA president pointed out that many students often travel from distant communities to attend school.

Gabriel suggested that online learning continue despite the challenges with Internet access for some students.

“Our teachers are far more prepared for online with tablets and the training and the learning-management systems. The ministry has done a fantastic job with that.

“Schools have been getting help from partners to get more devices and gadgets for the students,” he said.

Wright, who is principal of William Knibb High, said that JAPSS principals believe that too many critical factors are being ignored, including the diverse areas served by schools, the intermingling that takes place on transportation, and the fact that school districts are not zoned to facilitate efficient management of infection rates.

Nadine Molloy, principal of Ardenne High School, is also not in agreement with in-person classes anytime soon.

“I refuse to sanction putting the staff and students to this kind of exposure,” Molloy, a former president of the JTA, said.

And principal of Cumberland High, Darien Henry, was also critical of the ministry’s reopening strategy.

He called the proposal, which is reliant on GIS mapping, “dangerously risky and ill-advised”.

“Schools should only be opened when the community spread of COVID-19 has dissipated with significantly reduced risks to all our stakeholders. Now is not the time to be fancy with GIS mapping technology,” said Henry.