St. Maarten: 8 confirmed COVID-19 cases within schools

~ Minister says schools not adhering to protocols and safety guidelines ~

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) has confirmed a total of eight active coronavirus COVID-19 cases recorded among staff and students in several schools.

This was announced by the ministry in a press release on Sunday, November 8.

According to the Collective Prevention Services (CPS) as per November 3, since schools partially reopened for in-class instruction, there has been one active case of COVID-19 in a school. Due to possible exposure to the infected person, 11 persons were placed in quarantine. This group was comprised of eight students and three staff members.

As per November 6, the Ministry of ECYS has received reports from four school boards informing them of seven cases of COVID-19. Six of these cases involved adults and one case involved a child. CPS is working very closely with the Ministry of ECYS to ensure that children and staff that are currently in school remain healthy and will continue to closely monitor as all students return.

Several unscheduled inspections have been conducted by the Division of Inspection ECYS to assess the level of compliance of schools with their plans for education delivery, which were approved by the Ministry of ECYS.

According to the release, the results of the inspections indicate that schools are not fully adhering to the protocols and safety guidelines as established in the Education Continuity Plan Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “Commonly observed breeches of compliance are that some schools have removed the floor markings, classrooms are rearranged from the approved layout which took social distancing protocols into account, regular sanitation of facilities are not taking place, and education personnel have been observed not wearing masks and some schools have to enhance the sanitation and temperature screenings upon entry,” said the release.

Schools have been advised to address the breeches and follow up inspections will take place. During the next weeks, unscheduled inspections by the Inspection of ECYS and the Inspectorate of Public Health are expected to intensify.

“Today, Monday, November 9 makes exactly three weeks since schools on St. Maarten began the phased implementation of in person instruction,” said Minister of ECYS Rodolphe Samuel. “The process began with exam students and Special Education Students on October 19 and continued with the return of vulnerable students as per October 26.”

Students of these three groups of all subsidised school boards and the Division Public Education, except the Foundation for Academic and Vocational Education (FAVE) schools, returned to instruction over the last three weeks after their schools successfully finalised and implemented their safety plans for the delivery of in person education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today also marks exactly one week before November 16, when all students are expected to return to in person instruction, using approach three of the Education Continuity Plan.

“Given the continued community spread, in order to safeguard the health and well-being of educational personnel, students, their families and the wider community, it is of utmost importance that educational institutions adhere to the health protocols established by the Ministry of ECYS in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA,” urged Samuel.

He said although all students are expected to return, school boards are expected to ensure that all persons utilising the school compound wear a mask, practise two-meter social distancing and practise regular hand washing.

Where a two-metre social distancing cannot be adhered to, schools are expected to deliver education using a blended or staggered approach. Facilitating some students in the classroom and other students using a distance learning mode of delivery and or instructing different groups of students on campus at different times of the day.

Samuel said the commitment of education professionals over the last few weeks to implement all safety measures within their schools is most commendable. Through their efforts all schools have approved safety plans and most have begun their implementation. “I commend schools for reporting of suspected cases to their staff, parents, students and the Ministry, to ensure that cases of COVID-19 in the school environment do not remain unaccounted for, with the possibility to lead to clusters within our schools,” he added.

“Education must continue, but we must remain vigilant and ensure that education is delivered in the safest possible environment. I would like to inform schools that have let their guard down and have not been maintaining the health protocols to re-join the majority of schools in ensuring that the health and safety of all persons utilising the school’s compound are safeguarded. I would also like to call on school managers, teachers, students and parents to become fully aware of your school’s safety plans and to help your school community adhere to the health protocols for the well-being of your colleagues, your friends and your children. We can deliver in person education within our schools, and we must hold each other accountable for doing such,” said the minister.

As all students return to school using approach three of the Education Continuity Plan, several rules will apply.

There must be a properly established school setting and ability to maintain COVID-19 prevention and control measures while operating at 100 per cent. Control measures include that all persons on the school compound must wear a mask, practise two-metre social distancing and practise regular sanitation. In the event schools are unable to maintain these health measures, plans must be put in place for blended and or staggered education delivery.

The Daily Herald.

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