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Children should not be ‘out and about’

Pupils from private schools closed amid fears about Covid-19 are still required to “be in school” during class hours, the education minister warned yesterday.

Diallo Rabain said in a letter sent to at least one private school that he had received “numerous calls” about schoolchildren “out and about” in Hamilton.

The letter added: “As our schools are still in, the assumption is that the bulk of these children are from our private schools.

“I stress the need for all schools to reinforce that while you are moving to virtual platforms, the need for social distancing and hand washing is the best method of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and needs to be observed.

“You also need to let parents know that children are still required to ‘be in school' during school hours.”

Mr Rabain said: “As schools decide to close, I urge you to continue and reinforce these responsibilities.”

He was speaking as two more private schools announced plans to close. Somersfield Academy said in a letter to parents on Monday night that it would begin its Easter break on Friday.

Carlos Symonds, head of school, said that health of pupils and staff was “paramount”.

He added: “We recognise that there is currently much stakeholder anxiety.

“Moving the break forward will provide an opportunity for families and our staff to restore, replenish and prepare for potential longer-term virtual-learning environments.”

Mr Symonds said that teachers would continue to be trained this week in the provision of remote instruction to pupils if the school had to shut down.

He told parents: “Please be assured that our teachers, at all levels, are diligently and thoughtfully preparing remote lessons that will effectively engage our students and deliver the quality of instruction you have come to expect.”

Mr Symonds said families should ensure that children had home access to a computer, tablet or other mobile device and internet service.

Susan Moench, the principal at Mount Saint Agnes Academy, said that all classes were suspended from yesterday.

She added: “Students will be taking their learning materials home with them today and teachers will be providing remote instruction starting on Thursday.

“Students are expected to check in with their homeroom teachers daily. Teachers will be available in the school until Friday to assist in transitioning students and will be providing ongoing instructional support thereafter.”

Ms Moench said the school office would be kept open to help pupils and parents.

The Berkeley Institute said that meetings to make sure learning could continue “by way of an online strategy for students and teachers that can be activated at a moments notice” had been held.

A letter sent to parents on Monday on behalf of Keisha Douglas, the principal, said that a pupil survey had showed that 98.3 per cent of pupils “have access to continue their learning remotely if need be”.

It added that a meeting was held on Monday to continue to prepare the school's online programme if the school was closed, and that a group of pupils would work from home today to test out the remote system.

The letter added that field trips, assemblies and parent teacher association meetings had been cancelled.

David Burt, the Premier, told MPs in the House of Assembly on Monday there had been a “knock-on effect” with private schools opting to close, which he said was “fine”.

He added: “We have a number of respiratory illnesses which are going around right now and it is the height of flu season.”

Mr Burt said that most negative coronavirus tests had tested positive for influenza and that the Government had adopted a “research-based approach” to combat the virus.

The Premier explained: “There is research that says if you close school early, before you have sustained community transmission ... you can sometimes introduce additional risk, if you're closing schools and not all systems.

“As the seniors are often the most vulnerable persons in the community, often if persons are working, the seniors are taking care of kids that should be in school.”

Mr Burt said that his daughter was a public-school pupil and that the virus would continue to spread outside the island's borders even if Bermuda was to shut down for a prolonged period.

He added: “We cannot shut the country down for a year. It's not possible. There would be serious consequences.

“The minute that there is any type of sustained community transmission, if we get to that point in Bermuda, we will immediately move to the point where school and government offices will go to the place of being restricted.

“But we do not want to close schools and not close government.”

Llewellyn Simmons, the acting Commissioner of Education. sent a letter to public school principals yesterday.

He said: “The Department of Health's direction is that parents [teachers] are not required to undergo quarantine and may continue routine duties.

“Teachers are required to return to work if they have been out under the impression they too are to quarantine with their children.

“Principals are to call and have them return to duty effective immediately.”

Dr Simmons said that public schoolteachers with children in private schools “may use their personnel days as a result of the closure of private schools”.

He added: “Other leave will be without pay.

“Teachers are encouraged to provide supporting documentation if they are contesting.”

The Government announced on Monday that public schools would stay open.

Letter: Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education (File photograph)

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Published March 18, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated March 18, 2020 at 11:22 am)

Children should not be ‘out and about’

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