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Schools to open as planned despite BUT concerns over Covid

The Bermuda Union of Teachers has taken issue with the Government’s pre-return to school testing regime (File image)

Schools will open to in-class learning as planned on January 5 despite safety concerns expressed by the teachers’ union, the Ministry of Education confirmed tonight.

The Bermuda Union of Teachers said it is not safe for students and teachers to return to school owing to the latest surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Ministry of Health announced last night that of 13,772 test results received over the course of a week, 406 were positive.

But tonight the Ministry of Education said teachers will return on January 4 and students on January 5 as planned and will return to Phase 2 at the start of the 2022 term. [See panel for the ministry’s comments]

There are now 522 active cases and the BUT said that the Government should revert to remote learning.

The BUT believes that the resulting strain on testing facilities means that test results will not be guaranteed in time for the Government’s planned January 5 return to school for students.

As of this afternoon, the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory reported that 3,168 appointments have been booked of which 485 are staff and 2,683 are students. These numbers do not include staff and students testing at private sites.

A spokesperson for the BUT said: “Unfortunately, the sudden upturn in positive Covid-19 test results has significantly strained Bermuda’s testing process and machinery.

“We have been advised that our local labs will not be able to process the required number of tests for schools to open on January 5, 2022 safely.

“The current increase in Omicron variant Covid-19 cases has put predictable stress on Bermuda’s testing facility. Plodding ahead with any wholesale testing schedule for school students and staff at this juncture could send Bermuda down a very dire path indeed.”

“We do not believe that it is wise or safe to push on with school openings at this juncture. Furthermore, based on many consultations with medical professionals, we contend that it would be egregiously irresponsible for the Ministry of Education to move ahead with their current plan.”

Government’s return to school testing plan:

The Ministry of Education has announced that public schools will open and return to Phase 2 at the start of the 2022 term.

School staff return to work on January 4 and students return to school on January 5.

Tinee Furbert, the Acting Minister of Education, said: “We are seeing an increase in cases therefore protocols for Phase 2 are in place for the return to school on January 4 and 5, 2022.

“Staff and parents who have not booked appointments for pre-return tests are urged to do so as soon as possible as the testing schedule commences tomorrow, January 1.

“We know that our students benefit more from in-person learning. Therefore, to ensure a safe learning environment our schools will open for in-person learning for Term 2 with staff and students providing negative pre-return tests before entering school buildings on January 4 and 5, and with schools adhering strictly to the daily entry screenings and Department of Health protocols for Phase 2. Schools will also continue with weekly saliva screenings as another safety layer.

“As of this afternoon, MDL reported that 3,168 appointments have been booked of which 485 are staff and 2,683 are students. These numbers do not include staff and students testing at private sites.”

Minister Furbert added: “The most critical factor is the availability of staff to be present and ready to resume in-class teaching, and for students to be prepared for in-class learning on 5 January, 2022.”

Information regarding Phase 2 is available here.

The BUT spokesperson added: “Considering that our current case count is very close to what it was on the scheduled start date for this current school year (September 9, 2021), we feel it is prudent to consider a similar plan to what was implemented back then.

“While remote learning continues to evolve, it must be considered a contingency for dealing with this potentially deadly spike in Covid-19 cases.

“The entire world is responding to this new viral strain with great caution, and we do not believe that it would be sensible of us to turn a blind eye to this threat and allow our members to be sent back to a possibly very dangerous environment.”

Earlier this month, the BUT urged teachers not to get tested during their holiday time – before January 4 – saying that testing during holidays infringed on its members’ rights.

The Government stuck by its decision refusing to facilitate testing before January 4.

However, the BUT spokesperson said in a statement to Bernews and confirmed by The Royal Gazette, that, prior to news of the latest surge, it was able to secure testing on January 4 with results guaranteed to be returned prior to the students’ return on January 5.

The spokesperson added: “The Executive Committee of the Bermuda Union of Teachers wants to disclose our efforts to solve the pre-return to school testing problems that arose previously during this holiday season.

“We have worked closely with local laboratories to arrange a testing schedule that would eliminate encroachment upon our members’ duly negotiated holiday time.

“We were able to agree on a schedule with the medical bodies that would have seen our members attend testing sites in the West, Central, and East regions on the morning of January 4, with a guarantee that test results would be returned prior to our scheduled return to school buildings on January 5.”

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Published December 31, 2021 at 8:47 pm (Updated December 31, 2021 at 8:47 pm)

Schools to open as planned despite BUT concerns over Covid

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