Use of masks in schools to be relaxed, education minister says
Mask-wearing and other Covid-19 rules in schools will be optional under relaxations announced by the education minister yesterday.
Diallo Rabain told the public that there would be "a shift from government-mandated safety measures to personal responsibility for yourself and those around you“ from next Monday.
He said: “These modifications will permit an optional removal of masks in classroom and school grounds, the mixing of bubbles, parents and visitors on to school grounds, sports days, and so on, effectively, returning to the kinds of formative experiences we want all young people to have while at school.”
But Mr Rabain warned: “These relaxations, however, come with a great and shared responsibility, a responsibility that all staff, parents, learners and the community must accept to prevent exposure that can result in catching Covid.”
Mr Rabain made the announcement in the House of Assembly.
He said: “It is everyone’s responsibility to positively demonstrate and continue the behaviours that we know reduce the spread of Covid.
“Schools families that have high adherence to the screening policies will enjoy fewer restrictions than those that do not.
“While current mask-wearing for those who have very high participation rates will be changed to optional in most circumstances, it is still recommended that to increase your ability to avoid exposure; people make personal choices to wear them as often as possible.”
The news came as pressure mounted on the government to ease restrictions on schoolchildren in line with changes elsewhere.
Mr Rabain thanked the members of the Education Emergency Measures Committee who provided feedback to help develop the 2021 to 2022 Covid-19 Phases for School Protocols document which was released to schools this morning.
He added: “Some proposals find themselves in the document and others do not. This revised guideline document is the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Education and can and will be changed as necessary to protect our children and keep them in the school buildings.
“As a result, I fully understand and accept, even if others do not or refuse to, that the relaxation of mask-wearing will most likely lead to more Covid positives in our school system, which can lead to more students missing critical in-class learning.
“These revised guidelines consider school populations' usage of the at-home screening programs or the saliva screening programme. We must have effective measures in place to allow the detection of any Covid-positive staff or student as soon as possible.”
Ben Smith, the One Bermuda Alliance leader in the Senate, said the Government had to reconsider regulations for schools.
Linda Parker, the head of school at Bermuda High School, and Celia Powell, the chairwoman of the board of governors, also warned the Government in a letter that schools were at breaking point because of Covid-19 restrictions.
Pressure group Us For Them Bermuda said: “We are concerned that the caveat which ties loosening restrictions to the uptake of routine testing of healthy children is unethical.”
Us for Them added that a “test to stay” regime could work short-term, but that “the participation of families in this should be voluntary and respect informed consent”.
Mr Smith said at the Senate session earlier this week: “There is an economic impact because more people are making decisions to find another method of education so they are sending kids away to school earlier and leaving Bermuda to get education where potentially the restrictions are not the same.
“This is something that has to be highlighted.”
He added the health and education departments of health had to work towards giving schoolchildren a degree of normality by reconsidering the compulsory use of masks, social distancing rules and other restrictions.
Ms Parker said: “We are witnessing the negative social and emotional impact on our students, the gaps in learning which are presenting themselves, and the ongoing stress on our staff and BHS families.
The letter warned: “We can only imagine that these outcomes are replicated in the public school system and we are confident that all educators in Bermuda feel that we are simply not in a position to sustain these strict measures for much longer.”
But Mr Rabain highlighted that going to places such as restaurants and bars was optional.
He added that education was mandatory and that children learnt best in a school environment and it was best to keep them there if possible.
Mr Rabain asked: “When speaking of economic impact, what about the economic impact on families that can't afford to be home on quarantine with a child exposed unnecessarily?”
He added: “For once, I would like people to stop, think and understand we are here to govern for everyone, not just to speak certain people's desires and needs.”
The regulations for schools can be found here.