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Education ministry reimposes Covid phase 1 school restrictions

Diallo Rabain, the education minister (File photograph)

A high rate of coronavirus infections among primary school pupils has sparked a warning that school closures were “imminent” and classroom closures “likely” as tougher Phase 1 Covid-19 regulations were implemented.

Education officials said the increase in cases in younger pupils has forced a return to Phase 1 precautions.

The clampdown means that pupils and staff in Primary 1 to 3 will have to be masked at all times while indoors.

The wearing of masks was only required for Primary 4 pupils and above during Phase 2 precautions.

An education spokeswoman said: “The move from Phase 2 to Phase 1 is a direct result of the number of positive cases that are being reported at our lower grades.”

Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, sent a letter to schools this week which told them the decision was made after the Cabinet Covid Sub-Committee meeting on Monday.

Mr Rabain added that schools must also continue to stick to guidance on cleaning, sanitisation, use of personal protective equipment and other precautions.

UsForThem, a campaign group, has complained about the need for children to wear masks and said the rule exceeded World Health Organisation recommendations.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “The Ministry of Education’s move to Phase 1 restrictions on schools is alarming, given that it calls for all day masking indoors for children as young as four years old.

“This goes against WHO guidance on masking children, which recommends children under 6 not be masked at all.

“UsForThem Bermuda has been asking for a dialogue with the Ministry of Education for months to discuss the restrictions on children, including forced masking, which many parents find excessive, unsubstantiated by evidence and cruel.”

But the spokeswoman said requests for meetings had been turned down.

She added: “Parents are being shut out of decisions about their children, their education and their health. We find this unacceptable.

“As adults are essentially living normal lives, we must ask again why the children are being asked to shoulder the bulk of pandemic restrictions.”

Schools have sent out warnings to parents about the changes.

Nicole Chicon, the deputy head at Saltus, told parents: “We will continue to find opportunities in the day for students to learn outside to reduce the time during the day in masks.”

News of the move to Phase 1 comes after reports of parents sending their children to school after a break without the needed clear antigen or PCR test results.

Home antigen tests are not accepted. But a ministry spokesman said: “While a number of students did return to school without the required results, the policy worked as intended in that such students were not admitted to in-person learning.

“We are reviewing the specific circumstances, but it does appear that parents did not intentionally violate our policies.”

A source at the Berkeley Institute in Pembroke said the school opened as planned on Monday but some pupils without evidence of a clear test were sent home.

The source said: “We are open as normal and have communicated all the requirements with parents.”

Juanae Crockwell, of Southampton’s Port Royal Primary School PTA, said she had not been made aware of any children turning up to the school without the required test results.

She added: “Returning to Phase 1 is unfortunate, but safety is the best thing.”

Ms Crockwell said: “I have to test for work so this it is part of our routine now and it gives me a level of peace of mind.

“I know our status and if I know everyone in the school is testing, it makes me feel safer about sending them to school.

“I’m happy about the antigen testing it should help us get back, not to normal, but a little closer to it.”

One public schoolteacher said that lots of pupils were absent from their school.

The teacher said some pupils with special needs had problems with wearing a mask all day.

The teacher added: “The health department doesn’t understand.”

A middle school staff member said: “There have been a few irresponsible parents. You have to depend on people to be honest and exercise some discretion.

“You don’t want to make others sick but you will have that one per cent who don’t care.”

The staff member added: “Classes are sporadic – our numbers are impacted by Covid, whether it be staff or students.”

Ben Smith, the Shadow education minister, appealed to parents to follow the guidelines.

He said: “We need to see personal responsibility taken by parents. I continue to advocate for in person learning but that means that collectively we have to follow the rules.

“Attending work or school when you have not received your results is irresponsible and dangerous.”

* How is your school affected? Are your children off school? Let us know - e-mail news@royalgazette.com

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Published January 26, 2022 at 10:15 am (Updated January 27, 2022 at 10:11 am)

Education ministry reimposes Covid phase 1 school restrictions

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