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Tunapuna Hindu School SEA pupils sit in their class to begin work on the first day of their return to school yesterday, following a forced shutdown of the education system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

KEVON FELMINE

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Some 19,000 Standard Five pupils getting ready to sit the Secondary Entrance Examination on August 20 yesterday returned to classes for the first since COVID-19 forced a shutdown of the education system. Despite this, the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) plans to raise concerns over the delay in delivery of sanitisation supplies to some schools with the Ministry of Education today.At 4 pm yesterday, TTUTA president Antonia De Freitas was still collecting feedback from some regions.

De Freitas told Guardian Media that the ministry should have delivered supplies before yesterday to ensure all schools followed the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines for schools. She said principals should not have had to dip into school funds for these things.She also said she was not informed whether any school had received thermal scanners for measuring pupil and staff’s temperatures and admitted some schools that required minor repairs were still awaiting work. She also raised concerns about physical distancing for pupils of the Santa Flora Government Primary school who moved to the Palo Seco Beach Camp facility in 2015, after they had to abandon their ramshackle school. She said because of the facility’s size, physical distancing was almost impossible, so the ministry moved the pupils to the Palo Seco Government Primary School. However, this has now resulted in two schools in one facility.

As the ministry plans to reopen schools for all students in September, De Freitas said dialogue is needed between the ministry and all stakeholders to ensure a smooth restart. She said planning is necessary, as there will be a larger volume of pupils gathering while COVID-19 still poses a threat.Meanwhile, there was a smooth trickling of pupils entering schools throughout T&T yesterday as they returned to classes after a forced layoff in which they had to access classes via online means.

Some denominational schools had their own hand-held thermometers and staff instructed pupils to wash their hands before entering the classrooms. Equipped with her mask, Merene Singh dropped off her son at the Canaan Presbyterian in San Fernando, still concerned about safety at the school. Singh worried about pupils being able to properly adhere to the safety rules.

In preparation for the reopening, she said her family practised ways to stay clean, sanitise and physical distancing with her son.At the San Fernando TML Primary School, Shiraz Jaleel was excited that his son returned to school, especially as he will get much-needed SEA preparation. Jaleel said the school prepared a lengthy notice to parents about sanitising, use of face masks and other health guidelines which his family prepared his son to follow.“We went through the list with him to ensure that he would have a very good and safe day,” Jaleel told Guardian Media.

“He was all excited and prepared. He wanted to come out to get this done so that he would be fully prepared for the examinations and to get it over and done with. During the COVID period, teachers were sending work and he was keeping up. This here is just an extension and I would say he is ready.”

According to the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines for schools, personnel are to use infrared thermometers to check the temperatures of anyone entering a school. Those with high temperatures will be moved to shaded areas and retested. Anyone with flu-like symptoms will be denied entry. In the case of pupils, they will be quarantined and the school will contact their parents.

School desks must be sufficiently spaced and visitors must wear masks.In a media release yesterday, the Ministry of Education said primary schools successfully reopened for SEA students and pupils and teachers returned under strict health and safety guidelines.“Principals, school supervisors and officials of other divisions of the Ministry of Education have been working assiduously to prepare schools for the commencement of classes today, Monday, July 20, 2020. Classrooms have been set up so that the physical distancing, as well as, cleaning and sanitising protocols are observed,” the release stated.The ministry said there was a full attendance of principals throughout the country and full attendance of teachers in the Caroni, St Patrick, Port-of-Spain, South Eastern and St George East education districts, while there was a 99 per cent turnout in the North Eastern and Victoria districts. Among the student population, there was a 93-95 per cent attendance, it said.

“Parents and guardians are encouraged to send their Standard Five children to school to prepare for the upcoming SEA examination as their health and safety is assured. It is in the best interest of the students to take advantage of this opportunity,” the ministry said.

“The ‘Guidelines for the Reopening of Schools’ were drafted in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and were sent to principals.

School supervisors have also been visiting these schools to support principals in ensuring that all health protocols are observed.”