Public schools remain closed for in-person learning at the start of the new semester as cases of Covid-19 continue to increase in the territory.
“We started online because of the spike in Covid cases,” Chief Education Officer Connie George told the Beacon on Tuesday. “We just wanted to be cautious and monitor the situation a little bit. As soon as we are able to, we will resume in-person classes.”
Though Ms. George said that the start of the new semester was not ideal and that her ministry hopes to hold in-person classes soon, officials are proceeding with caution until they see that case numbers have dropped.
Schools were scheduled to open virtually on Jan. 4, but were delayed until Monday. Campuses remained quiet as students took to online platforms like WebEx and Google Classroom.
Even though last semester began with in-person classes, the ministry continued to use WebEx and other tools so that students, faculty and staff would be familiar with the online teaching platforms, Ms. George explained.
She added that the ministry made sure that each child has a device to use online, but improvements could be made by telecommunications providers for better internet service.
Ms. George added that private schools are using a hybrid system where some students are online and some are in school.
At Cedar International School, students returned to campus this week after school officials monitored the situation.
The school was scheduled to open on Jan. 4 but delayed opening until Monday, according to Head of School Scott Crawford.
“This is a situation we spent a lot of time talking to the community about,” he said. “We wanted to avoid an across-the-board remote learn- ing situation because we know it’s very difficult for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley floated the possibility of requiring at-home tests for public school students.
During a Jan. 4 interview with 284 Media, he said a testing regime would help the ministry open in-person classes. He added that the ministry would use rapid tests, and that the plan was still in its infancy.
The proposal sparked debate in the community, and parent Cindy Rosan-Jones said she’s “not in support of it at all.”
“The [Virgin Islands Party] administration has not effectively looked at the causes of our breakouts and therefore should not look at putting such stringent measures on our children,” she told the Beacon on Monday. “Civil servants aren’t forced to be tested; cruise passengers aren’t forced to be tested. Why should our children?”
When the Beacon reached out for comment via phone on Monday, Dr. Wheatley said he would call back, but he hadn’t returned the call as of press time yesterday afternoon.
While public schools are holding classes online, at least one private school has embraced at-home testing.
Cedar International added a testing protocol and has enough rapid tests for everyone to take before they come into the campus each week, according to Mr. Crawford.
The testing has helped the school flag some positive cases, he said. The school previously implemented a policy where a grade level would be sent home if a person in that class tested positive for the virus.
“That grade level would do remote learning for a period of time,” he said. “We found that there was no spread.”
The situation happened three times in the last semester and gave the school confidence to continue with the policy this term. Mr. Crawford said he appreciated Health and Social
Development Minister Carvin Malone’s announcement on Friday when he encouraged the population to cut back on all non-essential activities so that essential activities could continue.
“We consider school an essential activity,” he said.
All staff and faculty at the school are vaccinated, and 60 percent of secondary students are vaccinated, he added.