Minister of Education, Jimmy Prince, left, during a visit to the Kingstown Preparatory School on Tuesday, where work was being done in preparation of next Monday’s reopening of schools. (Photo: Facebook/Jimmy Prince)

The Ministry of Education says it anticipates a safe reopening of schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when exam-taking students return to the classroom next Monday – May 25.

The ministry said on Wednesday that in preparation for the safe reopening of school for Grades 6, Forms 5 and technical institutions across St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it has rolled out a set of operational safety protocols. 

“The guidelines emphasise cleanliness of schools, personal hygiene, physical distancing and the treatment of sick persons at school,” the ministry said.

Cleanliness of schools

On the issue of cleanliness of schools, the ministry said that over the last few weeks, the Public Health Department was engaged in the application of chemical disinfectants in schools (chemical fogging) and measures are now in place for the thorough sanitisation of the school buildings on a daily basis.

Additional janitorial staff has been hired to ensure that restrooms are cleaned and monitored throughout the day and that frequently touched surfaces are regularly disinfected.

Solid waste is expected to be removed daily and as far as possible, windows and doors are to be opened to encourage the flow of air.

Personal hygiene

Every person entering the school compound will be required to wear a facemask. This includes staff and students, as well as parents and other visitors.

School leaders are encouraged to emphasise public health measures like regular hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and the covering of coughs and sneezes with tissue or flexed elbow.

“All schools have been equipped with adequate supplies of soaps, hand sanitizers, tissue, garbage bins, etc. to support sanitary behaviours. BRAGSA has also installed additional hand washing stations at schools and has repaired damaged washroom facilities where necessary.

Chemical fogging at the Kingstown Preparatory School on Tuesday. (Photo: Facebook/Jimmy Prince)

Promoting physical distancing

Only students sitting external exams are required to return to school on Monday — May 25. Moreover, schools are expected to design timetables with staggered breaks and that allow students to come to school based on the subjects they are taking.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transport and Works have collaborated to make buses available to shuttle students to and from school.

There will be designated pick up points based on students’ location.

“The Traffic Department of the RSVGPF is committed to coordinating the transportation exercise in order to ensure that the established protocols regarding physical distancing are adhered to. Buses engaged (other than school buses) will be marked for easy identification,” the ministry said.

Classrooms are being organised such that there is a physical distance of at least three feet between desks (side to side) and at least 3 feet between students (front to back). The same holds for staffrooms, clerical spaces and practical work sessions (labs, etc.)

Staff and students are encouraged to maintain a minimum physical distance of three feet between each other when moving around classrooms, corridors, wash stations, etc.

Schools are advised to explore alternative methods for school assemblies/PTA and staff meetings, to cancel field trips and other events that encourage mass gathering and to stay away from sharing electronic devices, books, games, etc.

Dealing with sick persons at school

Sick students, teachers and other staff are advised to stay at home.

Each school must have a designated area for persons with COVID-like symptoms to be isolated while awaiting or undergoing assessment. With a suspected case of COVID-19, it is recommended that school leaders immediately notify the local health officials, staff, and the person’s family while maintaining strict confidentiality. The closest local health facility must be contacted and the necessary guidelines followed. 

“The Ministry of Education asserts that the protocols were designed in the best interest of the nation’s children and with overall consideration for public health. All stakeholders are urged to do their part in ensuring a safe tenure for all,” the press statement said.