As students prepare for the final term of the 2020-21 school year, more of them will be permitted to attend class in person following recent decisions by Cabinet. But schools will also continue to offer hybrid learning for the remainder of the year.
Cabinet decided on April 7 to reduce the social distancing requirements in school from six feet to three feet, allowing more people to be in classrooms, Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said April 15 in the House of Assembly.
Education and health officials will also have the flexibility to vary this three-foot requirement as needed for homeroom groups in larger primary and secondary schools, based on input from principals, he explained.
“This adjustment to the social distance in the classroom will allow the majority of the schools to accommodate all students currently enrolled,” said Dr. Wheatley, who is the minister of education, culture, youth affairs, fisheries and agriculture.
Other measures will be in place as well, such as staggered breaks and dismissal times to minimise large group interactions, he added.
Five days a week
The minister said most schools will return to offering onsite classes five days a week.
Meanwhile, Elmore Stoutt High School, Bregado Flax Educational Centre, and Enid Scatliffe Pre-primary School will continue hybrid online/onsite teaching while gradually increasing on-campus teaching, he explained.
ESHS will start by welcoming back select students from grades seven through nine, and the senior school will likely eventually implement a shift system for students on campus, he added.
“While the major setbacks for all three schools are centred on the shortage of available resources to accommodate the student population, the ongoing reconstruction at Bregado [Flax] Educational Centre, secondary division, is an additional constraint with the rebuild works of the buildings two and three,” Dr. Wheatley said. “As a result of the construction, the number of students on the secondary division of the school campus has been limited to the technical students, special education and marginalised groups.”
He added that construction is nearly complete, though, with the handover scheduled for May 5 and the return of students and staff expected by the end of that month.
Infrastructure work and campus cleanup efforts at Ivan Dawson Primary School, which started Jan. 11, are almost done as well, Dr. Wheatley said.
He added that a complete cleaning process will begin once resources are secured; until then, classes will continue to take place at the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church.
Students will be required to bring packed lunches, face shields or masks, personal hand sanitiser containers, and materials like writing utensils, Dr. Wheatley said, adding that they will also use electronic devices on a daily basis for resources like online textbooks.
So far, the government’s ICT Unit has delivered 796 Lenovo 14W laptops to public schools, and laptops for Ivan Dawson are waiting in storage until the school building is ready, he explained.
“The struggle for adequate internet coverage in schools continues, but I am pleased to say that the long-awaited hardware for the internet buildout at schools is now on island and ready for installation,” Dr. Wheatley said. “Partnering with the Department of Information Technology, plans are on stream to further equip schools to improve internet coverage on school campuses.”
Truancy and absenteeism have been high this academic year, Dr. Wheatley noted. To help bridge any learning gaps, he said schools are considering what summer programmes may be needed for some groups of students.
“Our hybrid/blended learning, reduced face-to-face sessions, and the truant behaviour and high absenteeism of some students may have brought on learning defections, which we hope to offer some assistance to recover from through these programmes,” he added. “We continue to strive to offer our students the best educational opportunities given the constraints of Covid-19.”
The deadline for primary school admittance applications is April 30, and the deadline for grade seven students is June 30. Forms are available online or at the ministry office on the third floor of the Ward Building in Road Town.
Dr. Wheatley said several educators have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Some schools have held discussion sessions with staff on the vaccine, and the final groups will be completed in the upcoming week,” he said.
He did not say if faculty or staff members will be required to get vaccinated.