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Parents call for end to strict Covid-19 rules in schools

“As the World Turns” by 17-year-old Layla Williams at Bermuda High School - one of the winning entries for the Harvey Cooper Awards for student art depicting life under Covid-19 (Picture from online)

Covid-19 restrictions for schoolchildren were branded as excessive and heavy-handed yesterday.

Parents of public and private school pupils said that classroom quarantines, masks in schools and the ten-day test rule after travel should all be relaxed.

They added that they felt powerless and Bermuda should follow the example of the UK and other jurisdictions and ditch many of the precautions against the coronavirus.

Us For Them Bermuda, a pressure group, highlighted accounts from two parents frustrated by the restrictions.

One said her daughter had to quarantine after she tested positive on her return to the island last month.

The girl had to go home again and quarantine for two weeks after only one day back at school.

The parent said: “This is although she literally just recovered from Covid, tested negative on a PCR three days after the alleged exposure, and has one shot of the vaccine.

“She has to miss out on all of her activities and will have been home for four weeks – ridiculous and so frustrating.

“Especially when under both UK and US rules she would not have been quarantined.”

Another mother said her eight-year-old went into quarantine over Christmas that lasted 17 days because of PCR test delays.

She was sent home again for 14 days two days after she returned to school.

The mother wrote: “She has given up all pretence of doing work and is in tears most days.”

Both girls were sent home as contacts after they were identified as having been close to a pupil eating lunch outdoors who later tested positive.

UFTB, set up last September, said this week that it continued ”to seek a dialogue with the Government to improve the lives of children”.

The group added: “We urge health and education officials to consider moving the schools contacts process in line with UK guidance immediately.”

They were speaking after England dropped mandatory face coverings in classrooms from today.

Children aged 5 to 18 flagged as contacts of someone with Covid-19 are also able to take lateral flow tests every day for a week and continue learning as normal, unless they got a positive test result.

The mother of two Somersfield Academy pupils – a girl, aged 7, and a boy, 5 – said Bermuda had some of the strictest Covid-19 rules in the Western world.

The Somersfield parent added: “We spent several weeks in quarantine, only because my kids' classmates had been identified as a close contact – ‘potential exposure’ as they called it – and subsequently tested negative, but it didn't matter.

“Remote learning was provided but, at their age, it didn't work at all and parents' work suffered too while taking care of young kids at home.”

The woman added that the impact of the after-travel ten-day test rule before children could return to the classroom meant last Christmas was their second where they were unable to join their grandparents overseas because of the impact on their education.

The parent said she had been “understanding in the 2020-2021 school year when we didn't have vaccines available for the general population until March 2021”.

But she added: “The school restrictions were suddenly tightened in September 2021 with the introduction of the four-phase school guidelines.

“It didn't make sense to me as we were getting to 70 per cent vaccination level.

“As a result, my 5-year-old had to wear a mask for the whole day, for two months, against WHO, UK and European guidelines on this matter.”

She added: “I like the approach they have in Portugal – if there is a positive case in the classroom, the rest of the students can continue going to school, with a test taken on Day 3, regardless of the vaccination status.

“I would be fine with daily antigen testing as well.”

She said mandatory masks appeared pointless for children given the Omicron variant’s transmissibility.

She added that her e-mails to the school and education ministry received a generic response of “those were the rules imposed by the Ministry of Health, so they couldn't do anything”.

The mother of a 7-year-old Saltus pupil said his return to the island from overseas had been delayed for two weeks because of a positive test for the coronavirus while abroad.

The ten-day rule means her son will have to wait until next Monday to go back to school.

The mother said children should be allowed back in school sooner, as long as they passed antigen tests.

She added: “What frustrates me the most is I feel like out of schools and doctors, no one is really sticking up for the kids.

“I think some people have started leaving the island and more will. Enough is enough – they want to educate their kids abroad.”

She highlighted the work problems experienced by many parents and the boredom and apathy long periods at home caused children.

A fourth parent said her 11-year-old daughter had received her first dose of the vaccine overseas last month but tested positive on her return to Bermuda.

The girl was allowed to return to school on January 10 after two weeks’ quarantine and a clear test.

But she was identified as a close contact of an infected individual two days later and given another two weeks’ quarantine.

The parent said her daughter was at a private school but asked for it not to be named because she was still pleading with health officials for an exemption on the grounds of her child’s vaccination and recovery status.

She added: “She’s missed almost a month of school. She’s just sitting in front of a screen.

“Then the regulations changed. As of tomorrow, she could have got out in ten days, but she still has to stay out for 14 days because of when her quarantine happened.

“There’s no consideration for the fact I can’t get my child vaccinated here. They’re being punished.”

The parent said she was “not optimistic” about an exemption, despite e-mailing her medical documents to the Government’s Covid-19 case management team and the school address last week.

She added: “Our doctor thinks it’s ridiculous as well, but I’ve not gotten any response.

“I just want someone to listen to me or at least respond.

“I’ve been very much supportive of the rules, but this has been the breaking point.”

The parent of a girl and boy in Harrington Sound Primary School’s P2 and P5 classes said she could lose their places at the school after she kept them home last week for home schooling.

She added that the uncertainty of whether they could stay in school had become too stressful.

The mother said: “Wearing masks all the time is a major concern for parents as well.

“If they’re going to be testing them all the time, why are they still having to mask up?”

She added: “Kids are resilient and adaptable.

“I feel that the trouble really lies in the Government having more say over my children than myself and my husband.”

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Published January 20, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated January 20, 2022 at 7:58 am)

Parents call for end to strict Covid-19 rules in schools

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