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Three private schools close over virus fears

Three private sector schools are to keep pupils away and move to remote learning amid fears about Covid-19, it was revealed yesterday.

Bermuda High School for Girls was closed yesterday after a pupil was screened for the disease.

The secondary schoolgirl was screened as a precautionary measure at the weekend after she was absent for most of last week.

All her family members have been quarantined.

The school's board met on Sunday and decided to close the school for “an unknown period of time”.

Linda Parker, the Head of School, said: “We did not think we would be making this decision so quickly, and we are aware that it will pose significant logistical challenges to all of our BHS families.

“We do, however, take the health and safety of our students and staff very seriously and we believe this is in the best interest of all involved to do our part to keep our school community, and the wider community, safe and healthy.”

“At this point, it is impossible to give a date when the normal school schedule will resume. We will monitor conditions daily, and we will give as much advanced notice as possible.”

The school asked any former pupils home from boarding school and university, irrespective of their arrival date, not to visit the school.

Ms Parker said: “We are not accepting non-essential visitors at this time.”

She added: “Provisions have been put in place to allow for learning to continue at home. Primary students will be sent home with work packs and their resources will be shared on our virtual learning platform and parent portal, Firefly.

“Secondary students will continue with their e-learning through Google Classrooms and Managebac.”

Saltus Grammar School said that it would transition to a “virtual learning platform” from tomorrow.

A spokesman said: “Attendance and all classes will continue remotely through our school's virtual model until further notice.

“Non-essential visitors to Saltus's campuses will be discouraged while vendors and suppliers to the school may conduct business as usual.”

Deryn Lavell, the school's head, said in an e-mail to parents: “We will run our virtual model through to the Easter break and we'll continue to monitor the government advisories so we can determine the best course of action after the break.”

She told parents and pupils: “I know this is a very challenging time for our parents and our students, too. The evolving situation may cause some of our students anxiety and we will share some resources with you over the next few days, which may be useful as you look to manage their concerns.

“Rest assured, our SGY2 students are on track to graduate as normal. We anticipate our external exams will run as scheduled. Should there be any modifications to our exam schedule, we will let our community know.”

Dave Horan, the principal of Warwick Academy, said: “We have made the decision to start a three-day transition to remote learning.

He added that pupils would be at school today and staff would attend tomorrow and Thursday “to complete their preparedness for the shift”.

Mr Horan said: “Students are able to come into school on Wednesday and Thursday to get help in setting up their remote learning. Attendance and all classes officially commence remotely on Friday, March 20 until further notice.

Somersfield Academy will bring its spring break forward to Friday.

Head of school Carlos Symonds said in a letter to parents last night: “Unfortunately, emergent individual circumstances at some other schools on the island have accelerated the need for transition of those schools to a virtual learning environment.

“As such, Somersfield Academy continues to cooperate, collaborate with and actively consider the advice of the Bermuda Government's Department of Health with respect to school closure in support of the national strategy and the advice of the Centre for Disease Control on the timing and appropriateness of school closures.

“Of particular note is that we are not aware of any Somersfield students or staff who have required Covid-19 screening at this time.

“As such, following CDC guidelines, we believe that a closure or immediate transition of Somersfield to virtual learning is not yet required in order to adequately protect the health and welfare of our students and teachers alike.”

Mr Symonds said the school supports families who want to keep their children out of school.

He added: “This week, we will continue to prepare for continuity of instruction by continuing the training of our teachers and students in delivering and receiving remote instruction, in the event that the transition of the school to a virtual learning environment after the break becomes necessary.

“We ask families to help prepare for the possibility of remote learning by ensuring that you have home access to a device and internet service.

“If this does become necessary, detailed communications about the approach to virtual learning will be shared with students and parents.”

The Berkeley Institute has been developing an online learning strategy for pupils and teachers “that can be activated at a moment's notice”.

A letter sent to parents on behalf of principal Keisha Douglas said yesterday: “We are delighted to report that 98.3 per cent of our students have access to continue their learning remotely if need be.

“Instructional team leaders met during lunch today to continue preparation for our online strategy in the event of a school closure.

“To be clear, only the Minister of Education can officially close public schools. Principal Douglas cannot make this determination.”

The Portuguese Cultural Association said that the Portuguese School was closed until further notice.

Public schools will remain open.

A spokeswoman for the education department said that the Government was “taking preventive and protective measures, working closely with the Department of Health, reviewing policies and guidance from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention, and listening carefully to our school communities”.

She added: “There are no confirmed cases in Bermuda and our schools are in the preparation and preventive phase.

“Any decision to close a school or to dismiss specific classes will be taken after reviewing several factors, including the impact on community spread of Covid-19, impact on schools and impact on families.”

The spokeswoman said that the Government would get daily reports from the health ministry and principals.

She added: “Should there be a confirmed case in any of our schools — of students, staff, parents, or temporary visitors — families will be notified and decisions made according to CDC guidelines, following a risk assessment in co-ordination with the Department of Health.”

Bermuda College said that it also remained open.

A spokeswoman said: “If there are any changes, we will use official channels of communication to relay the information to internal and external stakeholders.”

UPDATE: This story was amended to include comments from Somersfield Academy head of school Carlos Symonds and Berkeley Institute principal Keisha Douglas

Linda Parker, head of school at BHS

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Published March 17, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 17, 2020 at 11:05 am)

Three private schools close over virus fears

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