Government aims to reopen some public schools by Oct. 5 and to reopen the rest by Nov. 6, Education and Culture Minister Myron Walwyn announced during a press conference on Friday morning.

“From the meetings that I’ve had with the senior officials in my ministry, we have set some target dates because we really want to get school moving as quick as we can,” Mr. Walwyn explained.

By Oct. 5, the ministry hopes to have grades 11 and 12 functioning, as well as having all students between the ages of 3 and 8 involved in an “educational programme” throughout the territory, he said.

“My team tells me that we can also get grade 10 functioning by that time,” he said. “Certainly we want to give priority to grades 11 and 12 because these students have to sit regional examinations — the CSEC and CAPE — and the quicker we can get them settled the better it is for us.”

By Nov. 6, he said, the ministry intends to have all schools and all grades functioning.

“Obviously, it wouldn’t function in the way that it was before, but in a shift system,” he said, reiterating an earlier announcement that some students will attend classes from 8 a.m. to noon, while others will attend from 1-5 p.m. “The academic year will be adjusted, so the academic year will start effective Nov. 5, and of course we will have to relax the term breaks so that we don’t lose instructional days throughout the period of time.”

‘Usable’ schools

Many students will attend classes at one of several schools that were deemed to be “usable” after Hurricane Irma, the minister said, adding, “UNICEF has committed some very large tents to us that we can use as well to supplement the existing infrastructure of the schools.”

On Tortola, the “usable” schools include the VI School of Technical Studies; Althea Scatliffe Primary; Willard Wheatley Primary; Francis Lettsome Primary; Alexandrina Maduro Primary; Ebenezer Thomas Primary; and Ivan Dawson Primary.

High school students, Mr. Walwyn said last week, likely will also be accommodated at the Pasea building originally designated for a new library, where Clarence Thomas Limited used to be housed.

Anegada’s Claudia Creque Educational Centre was also deemed “usable,” as were the Bregado Flax Educational Centre Primary Division and Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary on Virgin Gorda, the minister said.

Other schools suffered extensive damage, some of which resulted from faulty shutters, according to a Sept. 16 report that the Department of Disaster Management released on Tuesday.

DDM found that schools on the western side of Tortola sustained the most damage because of their proximity to the coast. High storm surges and open terrain likely contributed to the amount of destruction, the report stated.

One particular brand of storm shutter failed on many school buildings, which could be attributed to the product itself or incorrect installation, according to DDM.

“More traditional” windows at BVI Seventh-day Adventist School, Leonora Delville Primary, Ebenezer Thomas Primary and Althea Scatliffe Primary suffered much less damage.

Mr. Walwyn said last week that the Elmore Stoutt High School is mostly structurally sound in spite of damage to windows, doors and other areas.

Teachers

On Friday, Mr. Walwyn was planning to meet with education staff at the Save the Seed Centre in Duffs Bottom.

“I have to see what the mental state is for all of our teachers,” he said. “We have a significant number of teachers who are on contract. We need to know if they’re still here and if they’re willing to stay. But even if the vast majority of teachers who are on contract leave, I think with the local cohort that we have we can still pull it off in the timeframes that I’ve mentioned.”

Help needed

In the coming weeks, he added, the ministry will reach out to community members to request assistance.

“Even before Hurricane Irma, there was some communities that took ownership of the schools, and we’re going to be calling on them to assist us in this regard as well, to come out and help us get things going,” Mr. Walwyn said.

He added that the recovery process won’t be easy.

“It’s going to take a while,” he said. “We’re going to be uncomfortable. Many of us will want to complain; many of us will complain. But the reality is we must not lose sight of what is important. The important thing is for all of us now in the Virgin Islands to work together to rebuild our country.”