Mass absenteeism from classrooms because of slow return of coronavirus tests
Schools that reopened their classrooms this week were hit by widespread staff and pupil absences because of a failure to get coronavirus test results returned in time, sources said yesterday.
One public school staff member highlighted that a class at one school had just two out of 14 pupils at their desks when the schools reopened on Wednesday and some schools had fewer than half of their pupils in attendance.
The source, who asked not to be named, said: “Several schools have around 50 per cent attendance or less because students don’t have their test results back.
“In some cases, there are individual classes with three or fewer students in them.
“It makes it difficult to teach lessons when the majority of the students are out and the lessons will have to be retaught for those students who weren’t there.”
The source said the on-the-ground experience backed the view of Carika Weldon, the government scientific adviser who resigned from the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory this week.
Dr Weldon quit after she warned the Government that the system would not be able to cope with the number of tests that would need to be done.
The source added: “It looks good from the Government’s point of view that the schools are open, but it’s one thing to be open and another to be functioning properly with good attendance.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education said yesterday that the numbers of absences had yet to be tallied.
She added: “Tests results are coming in, data is still being collected to determine numbers of students and teachers cleared for in-class learning.
“More information will be presented as it becomes available.”
A staff member at another school which was closed yesterday said fewer than half of staff and pupils at the school had received their Covid-19 test results by Thursday.
The staff member, who also asked not to be named, said that the Government should have planned to open schools on a remote basis for the start of the new term.
The ministry said on December 31 that public schools would open to pupils on Wednesday with Phase 2 regulations because of the surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The announcement was made despite Bermuda Union of Teachers fears over safety because of the surge.
The BUT also predicted that Covid-19 test results would not be turned around in time and suggested remote teaching instead.
The ministry sent out details for a staggered opening on January 4, the day before the new term started.
The second staff member added: “What frustrates me is the teachers’ union and the principals’ union gave the ministry solid options.
“But of course they didn’t listen. It seems more about control than anything else.
“The Government should be prepared to work with the unions and other stakeholders.”
Several schools were scheduled to reopen their classrooms to pupils yesterday, but most of the island’s middle schools and senior schools stayed shut.