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Teachers begged for school closure – Speid

Published:Friday | March 13, 2020 | 12:37 AMDanae Hyman/ Staff Reporter
Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.
Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.

Demands from teachers have been credited with causing the Holness administration to close schools amid anxiety over the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced, in an emergency press briefing yesterday, that all infant, primary, and secondary schools, as well as teachers’ colleges, would be officially closed, starting today, for 14 days.

According to Owen Speid, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), the association met with the Ministry of Education to request the closure of schools after the announcement of the first case of COVID-19 in the island on Tuesday. Another case was confirmed on Wednesday.

“We were the first to be calling on the Government to say we need to close the schools because over 200 persons came in on the plane, and we don’t know who some of those persons are, and we don’t know if some of them are infected,” said Speid.

“We came to an agreement also at the meeting on Wednesday.”

According to the JTA president, safety concerns prompted the organisation to cancel an education conference that was slated for April and a rally that should have seen more than 600 teachers amassing yesterday.

Stating that schools are not daycare centres, Speid said that concerns over the effects of the abrupt closure were dispelled yesterday when limited students turned up for classes.

“Most of the schools had very low turnout. One school only had one child show up out of a total of 1,200 children. This shows that the parents have the capacity to ensure that their children are relatively safe, and they have made provisions for them, clearly, or they would have turned up to school,” he said.

Speid, however, disclosed that before the prime minister’s announcement that schools should close, some administrators had called in to say that they would have been closing their doors yesterday.

He said that school boards have the autonomy to make those decisions.

One source told The Gleaner that Mocho Primary School in Clarendon also closed its doors yesterday, with no teachers or the principal turning up.

“Mocho Primary sent home students this morning from about 7:30 a.m. There were no teachers. The vice-principal called one of the cooks to tell the gate man that when the students come, to turn them back, to go home,” the source said.