Tue | Dec 7, 2021

‘We need our students back in the classroom’

Anchovy High principal disappointed in delayed reopening of schools

Published:Wednesday | October 6, 2021 | 12:06 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer


THERE ARE mixed views among high school principals in western Jamaica about the feasibility of face-to-face classes come mid-October, due to the low vaccination rate among students in the region and the current shortage of vaccines.

Lavern Stewart, principal of the St James-based Anchovy High School, said she fears that her students will be made to face further delays in having what she described as much-needed in-person interactions with their teachers, which would be a welcome departure from the online method that has been churning out many challenges.

“We assumed that this would be the situation, since the authorities do not have vaccines and most of the children are not vaccinated,” said Stewart. “I feel disappointed, because we were looking forward to having some of our students here on at least a phased basis. We have conducted diagnostic tests to start out the new school year, and we have seen where there are some learning gaps, and we know that face-to-face learning would help to close some of these gaps.

“We still have a few of our students that are not engaged online at all, based on their circumstances; meaning, they do not have a device or internet access. We have some students who have been given devices, but it is merely a drop in the bucket, compared to the need,” said Stewart. “We continue to do what we can, based on the resources that we have available, to reach as many of our students as possible.”

But Norman Allen, principal of the Westmoreland-based Frome Technical High School, is approaching the situation in a more practical manner, pointing out that schools across Jamaica have yet to reach the Ministry of Education’s targeted 65 per cent vaccination rate among students.

“The education ministry said they are looking for a 65 per cent vaccination rate before we can resume face-to-face classes. If we are not nearing that, and we are now in October and we are hearing that vaccines are now coming in, then it is difficult for schools to reopen at this point,” said Allen. “We understand the need for resumption of face-to-face school, but at the same time, we cannot be safeguarding ourselves and the children for so long and then rush into a situation if we are not ready.”

In August, the Ministry of Education had targeted in-person teaching for vaccinated students by mid-October, with secondary schools to resume face-to-face classes if they achieved vaccination rates of 65 per cent or higher. However, Education Minister Fayval Williams announced last month that only one school, which she did not identify, had come close to achieving a 65 per cent vaccination rate.

Subsequent to Williams’ announcement, the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS) expressed doubts about the mid-October return to in-person schooling, given the low vaccination rate.

Linvern Wright, president of JAPSS, told The Gleaner on Monday that educators will have to take a wait-and-see approach at this time as Jamaica awaits a fresh shipment of Pfizer vaccines, which will be targeted towards children age 12 and older.

“Regarding the fact that we do not have the vaccination numbers we would like to see, it is a difficult thing for us to deal with, but it is for us to wait and see what the Government is doing,” said Wright, who is also the principal of William Knibb High School in Trelawny. “Some of my colleagues are suggesting that we have school for those who are vaccinated, but the vaccination numbers are low, so it still would not have the kind of effect that we would want to have in terms of students coming out and our interfacing with them.”