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Public schools to reopen in September

Schools are on track to reopen in September after a “mammoth task” to create safety rules to reduce the risk of Covid-19, the education minister said yesterday.

Diallo Rabain added that social-distancing requirements and a 30-minute health check every morning would be among the steps taken to try to keep pupils and staff free of the novel coronavirus.

He told the House of Assembly: “Children are at the forefront of everything that we do in the Department of Education.”

Mr Rabain added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has made the safety of students and staff even more paramount.

“When our public schools reopen in September 2020, the safety, health and wellbeing of all students and staff will remain our priority.”

The minister said that entry and exit safety and health rules were developed for all public schools with assistance from teachers and health professionals.

He added that the precautions took account of pupils' daily movements, including arrival at schools, their entry to school buildings and classrooms, visits to the bathroom and lunchtimes.

Mr Rabin said that the rules, to be published on the Department of Education's website, were developed for every school level and individual schools would be asked to post customised versions on their own websites.

He added: “Developing these protocols was a mammoth task.”

Mr Rabain said: “Upon arrival at the schools in the morning, a screening will take place to ensure children are free of symptoms of Covid-19 or any other illness.

“This screening includes temperature checks, a three-point questionnaire and appropriate follow-up measures.

“Parents will be required to wear face coverings when on the school premises and will not be allowed into school buildings to ensure a healthy and safe ‘bubble'.

“A key feature of our safety plan is the use of ‘bubbles' consisting of the same group of children.

“Children will remain in their bubbles and observe appropriate physical distances. Preschoolers, primary and middle-school students will not be required to wear masks at this time.”

Mr Rabain added that senior-school pupils and staff at all levels would have to face masks on school property.

He said all equipment used by pupils and staff would be sanitised before and after use.

Mr Rabain also told MPs about steps taken to prepare school buildings and make sure that social-distancing could be maintained.

He said that it was discovered that “many classrooms were cluttered with items not appropriate for classroom environments” after school visits in May.

Mr Rabain added: “Also, many items in classrooms had the potential to adversely impact the air quality and were taking up much needed space.

“To rectify this, school staff were required to declutter classrooms to meet basic safety and health guidelines.

“Subsequently, inspections were carried out at the end of the school year at all 36 school sites, to ensure adherence to guidelines.”

He said that deep cleaning would be carried out in August and water tanks at all schools would be chlorinated.

Signs will be posted to remind staff and pupils to follow the rules.

MPs heard that a cleaning and sanitisation regime developed by the Department of Health would be carried out every day and that more cleaners would be hired if needed.

Desks will be rearranged to make sure there was six feet between pupils, so some classes may have to be split.

Mr Rabain said: “For example, a teacher who is teaching their class may be face to face with one group, while the other group that is physically on-site in another room, accessing the lesson remotely under the supervision of another qualified teacher.

“This reconfiguration will require the department to increase the number of teachers on site.

“Some of our schools will be using common areas for teaching such as the assembly hall, computer lab, art room, music room, learning support room, and reading room.”

He added that the possibility of a “rotational schedule” for school attendance — especially for upper middle and senior school pupils — had not been ruled out.

The House heard that the Department of Education was exploring the possibility of the installation of Plexiglas shields on desks in primary schools, which could allow all pupils to be taught in the same room.

A hybrid learning model will be introduced to combine face-to-face teaching with online learning “to accommodate extremely vulnerable staff and students who require shielding”.

To read statements delivered by the mniister of Education, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”

Moving forward: Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published July 18, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 18, 2020 at 9:00 am)

Public schools to reopen in September

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