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School survey called misleading

Parents of public-school pupils should have been given more information on proposed health precautions as part of a plan to reopen schools, two mothers said. Debra James, the president of the Harrington Sound Primary School Parent Teacher Association, said details of the measures should have been publicised before parents were asked last week to complete an education department survey, designed to gauge how many children were likely to return to school after phase three of the reopening of the island kicks in. Ms James added: “It’s only fair for us to see what it will look like if our children were to be in school.”Ms James, who has sons in Primary 1 and P5 at the Smith’s school, said she would not send her children back until there had been no new positive coronavirus test results for four weeks. She added that the views of parents and school staff should “weigh heavily” in decisions on when schools opened back up. But she said: “My fear is that teacher’s feedback will be ignored.” The education department survey asked parents: “Will your child return to school, when it reopens during Phase 3, if the school has health and safety protocols approved by the Department of Health and social-distancing in place?”Ms James said it “wouldn’t make any sense” to reopen schools if survey results showed that parents were unwilling to send their children back. She added that a possible extension to the school year over the summer also did not make sense. Ms James explained: “The students are on different levels. Some don’t even have devices. “So the students that are behind will remain behind unless the teachers assess each student.” She said that she replied to the survey that she would not send her children back to school in Phase 3.Ms James added: “So far, it appears to me that the health and safety protocols for the general public aren’t up to par and there isn’t enough accurate information being shared with the public. It will be nearly impossible for primary schoolchildren to adhere to, and even understand, the social-distancing, not sharing, et cetera, no matter what protocols they put into place. “Furthermore, we all know how quickly the common cold spreads in the schools.” Another parent said that she appreciated the Government’s effort to include parents in decision-making, but it was too early to decide if children should go back. She added: “Things are still too fresh, in my opinion.”The woman, who asked not to be named, agreed that parents should have been given details on proposed health and safety rules in advance of the survey. She said: “These are our children. It’s their lives and the teachers and staff lives that matter.” The 36-year-old Devonshire woman said even she had a hard time keeping her face mask on in public. She added: “I cannot imagine the children sitting in class all day with these masks on their faces. “It will be impossible.”The woman, who has two children at Elliot Primary School, in Devonshire, and one at the private Mount Saint Agnes, Hamilton, added that enforcement of social-distancing would also be a problem in the classroom and playground. David Burt, the Premier, signalled last Friday that an enhanced second phase of return to normal life in Bermuda could start this week. He said at a briefing that a special sitting of Cabinet would be held at the weekend to discuss the terms of the next stage. Mr Burt outlined a four-phase plan in April to move from shelter-in-place regulations towards a post-coronavirus normal. He hinted at the time that each phase could last for two or three weeks at a minimum, but warned that the Government would not put hard and fast time limits on the phases. Phase 1 started on May 2. Phase 3 would see public schools and childcare reopened. Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Eduction, and Kalmar Richards, the Commissioner of Education, did not respond to requests for comment.The Bermuda Union of Teachers declined to comment.Mr Rabain said this month that public schools would reopen only “once it is safe to do so”. He added in a Facebook discussion that the education ministry would “take our cues from the Department of Health”. Mr Rabain said there were no plans to require pupils to be tested for the coronavirus before they returned to school, but that teachers had been offered screening.