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Mandatory testing for students and staff before return to school after midterm break

Diallo Rabain, the education minister (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Students and staff at Bermuda’s public schools will undergo mandatory PCR Covid-19 testing before returning to in-class learning after the upcoming school break, the Minister of Education announced yesterday.

Diallo Rabain said during a press conference that a system was being set up to enable students and staff members to sign up for time slots.

The slots will be available next Friday, Saturday, and, on a limited basis, Sunday.

There will be testing sites at Penno’s Wharf in St George’s, Bull’s Head Car Park, St Paul’s Centennial Church and Perot Post Office in Pembroke, the Bermuda College in Paget and in Dockyard.

Mr Rabain said: “This will be imperative to ensure the safety of our school environment.”

He added that revisions were being considered to the quarantine policy for when a positive case was detected in a school.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Health to revise the quarantine policies to reduce the number of children sent home when a positive case is detected.

“While we do not wish to send any child home, we must ensure that our children are protected in school and outside of school. We will continue to assess and refine our policies to best address the needs of our large volume of students island wide, spread over 36 locations.”

Mr Rabain highlighted that all preschools and primary schools, as well as three of the four middle schools – Dellwood, Whitney and Sandys Secondary middle schools, had now returned to in-class learning. The Dame Marjorie Hope Academy has also reopened.

He said Clearwater Middle School, CedarBridge and The Berkeley Institute would return to in-class learning after the school break. He did not state a start date for Success Academy, the only remaining public school not given a scheduled reopening date.

Mr Rabain said: “This has been a challenging time for everyone – principals, teachers, parents and students. But we extend our appreciation to each and every one of you for coming together to ensure that our young people can learn in a clean and safe environment.

“Parents and staff will receive instructions on how to sign up and pick their days and times for testing. To be clear, as with the pre-entry testing we did to return to in-class learning, a negative PCR test will be required to return to our schools after the midterm break.

“The saliva screening process will begin after the midterm break.”

Mr Rabain later clarified to The Royal Gazette that all schools that have gained permission to reopen, will be permitted to reopen again after the break.

“All schools will reopen after the midterm break. Students and staff who fulfil the requirement of having a valid PCR negative test result will be welcomed back."

Mr Rabain said that the introduction of lateral flow tests, which are being used in private schools, were still being planned for use in public schools as an addition to screening processes and that private donors had reached out to offer help with supply.

He said depending on landing costs, it could cost in the region of $11,000 per week if every public schoolchild was tested once a week.

Questioned about extended periods between when children are tested and when they return to in-class learning, Mr Rabain said: “Testing is one part of an entire group of things that are being done. Our children are picking up this virus outside of our school system.”

He said children must adhere to public health regulations, including mask-wearing and hand hygiene.

He added: “Whether it is a day between a test, whether it is two days between a test, whether it is three days between a test, whether it is an hour between the test, if you are not doing these things to keep yourself safe, you are putting yourself at risk.”

Mr Rabain also acknowledged Dean Foggo, deputy principal and business studies teacher at Clearwater Middle School, for winning the Bermuda Education Network’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award.

“A veteran in education, Mr Foggo is a shining example of sincere passion and inspiration for Bermuda's youth. We commend him,” he said.