Teachers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have mandated their union to tell the Ministry of Education to have its three-day professional development programme online or during the Easter break.
However the teachers are not opposed to returning to the classroom on April 12, the conditional date for the recommencement of face-to-face education.
The professional development programme was scheduled to run from today, Wednesday, through Friday, but teachers are suspicious that education and health officials would use the activity to bully them into taking a COVID-19 jab.
A spike in COVID-19 cases last December forced officials to keep schools closed after the Christmas vacation.
Students continued their education online.
“Quite frankly, teachers anticipate returning to the classroom, the physical classroom. Teachers have no problem returning to school on the conditional date which was stated in the circular, which is April 12th,” Vanrick Williams, acting first vice-president of the union told a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday.
“Teachers also have no problem returning to do the professional development session. However, very importantly, teachers are very concerned about their safety and wellbeing,” Williams further said.
Williams was updating the media on the outcome of a general meeting of the SVG Teachers Union held last Sunday.
He said that the meeting decided that before teachers return to the classroom, the Ministry of Education must demonstrate that they have the necessary protocols in place to ensure that teachers and students are safe.
Teachers want the ministry to ensure that schools are sanitised.
“And when they talk about sanitisation, they are not talking about taking a piece of cloth and wiping several desks, wiping 30 desks, wiping 50 desks, wiping 100 desks,” Williams said.
“We are talking about proper sanitisation of schools, ensuring that there is adequate water, soap liquid, hand sanitiser, washing stations, all of the established protocols that have been there; we need it beefed up, we need the protocols to evolve because as we know, the active cases have gone up.”
He said that while SVG might now only be recording one or two cases of COVID-19 daily, the number of cases in the country is still high.
Williams was speaking earlier on a day that the National Emergency Management Organisation would announce that 375 persons have recovered from COVID-19, one of the highest numbers in any one day.
This means that SVG now has 168 active cases from among the 1,681 cases it recorded since March 2020.
Nine persons with COVID-19 have died in SVG.
Williams asked whether the Ministry of Education could guarantee that students will distance themselves from each other, noting that there are a number of large schools.
“And we know that there is a problem when it comes to physical distancing among students, among their peers.”
He said that students have not seen their peers for a while and will engage in physical greetings, despite the vigilance of teachers.
Williams also asked whether the ministry could guarantee an appropriate and reliable transportation system for students.
The government has passed a law that expires on March 27, halving the number of passengers that omnibuses are allowed to carry.
And, on Sunday, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that his government would pass a law that allows only omnibus operators who have been vaccinated to transport more than half their capacity.
The Vincentian Transportation Association, quoting a term Gonsalves coined last year, has slammed the proposed law as a “Chinese draconian” measure aimed at pressuring omnibus operators into getting vaccinated.
“We all know that at present, minibus operators are limited when it comes to the number of passengers that they can carry. So, how are students to get to schools on time? Would they not lose instructional time as well?”
He asked whether the ministry is going to stagger the time when students attend school or have a blended system — a mixture of face-to-face and online instruction.
“These are things that the ministry has not made clear and teachers are concerned about the issues as well.”
Williams said that Sunday’s meeting also focused on students who may be coming from homes where COVID-19 positive persons live.
“The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, we believe that they should carry out background checks to ensure that students are not coming from homes with infected persons.”
He said that Vincentians, as might be the case around the world, are not completely honest when it comes to disclosing their status as it relates to COVID-19.
The union representative said that even the Ministry of Health had mentioned that they had been having problems because people were reluctant to disclose information about their COVID-19 status.
“Our general members believe that students should be tested,” he said, adding that teachers will also subject themselves to COVID-19 tests.
“I am confident that teachers will do that because we care about the students, we care about ourselves and teachers have families as well. So we expect that students and all personnel on the school compound will be tested as well. This will include the auxiliary staff; this will include the tuck-shop workers, the cleaners.”
Williams told the media that the general meeting was concerned about the implications of educational institutions being compromised because of COVID-19.
“We can speak of the mental asylum. That is an institution that has been compromised. And we need to learn; we need to take note from this. So every necessary precaution must be taken to ensure that our education institutions do not become compromised. Let history be one of our teachers as well.”
Over 100 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among patients and staff of the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre, located at Glen, resulting in the infected patients being isolated at a campsite in Queen’s Drive.