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National Primary Schools Prinicipals’ Association president Lance Mottley

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The recent jump in COVID-19 cases and the anticipated spike to come in a few days now has education stakeholders expressing concern about the risks students may face in the coming weeks, as Standard Five students are set to sit the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) on Thursday (August 20) and schools are carded to reopen shortly after on September 1.

National Primary Schools Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) president Lance Mottley has always maintained the SEA exam should not be postponed, as life must go on in the face of the pandemic – albeit with more caution. However, the recent recording of over 270 cases in less than four weeks is now raising a few eyebrows over the safety of the exam within the organisation.

“As we get closer to it and as the cases rise, because it’s only prudent of us to ask the question as we get closer—is it safe to continue?” Mottley said in an interview with Guardian Media yesterday.

He said among other things which need to be ventilated with the Ministries of Education and Health is the reopening of schools carded for September 1.

“We have held the position that we cannot continue to keep the country locked down but we have to be able to reopen it in a safe way and we need to discuss how safely we can reopen our schools so that the schools do not become the epicentre of the spread of the virus,” Mottley said.

Much like Mottley, National Council of Parent Teachers’ Associations PRO Shamilla Raheem also believes a meeting is needed with the Education Ministry to evaluate the safety protocols. However, she does not believe it is feasible to reopen schools as planned if current trends continue.

“I don’t see September coming for school to reopen being possible at all … It’s quite scary to let our children go back to school in September—it’s quite alarming and not safe at all. I don’t recommend it and our organisation is not going to be supporting like that,” Raheem said in an interview.

Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas meanwhile said it was too soon for her to make any pronouncement. However, she assured that they were closely monitoring the developments and would await communication with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health.

Guardian Media also reached out to Rachiel Ramsamooj, administrator of the SEA Parents’ Support Group on Facebook, who said several parents have already indicated they will not be sending their children to school in September unless it’s safe.

“In order for schools to reopen, we need to have some sort of stricter measures to reduce the rate of infections,” Ramsamooj said.

“Based on what public health officials are saying, the spread is connected to gatherings…bars, religious functions, et cetera. The adults are the ones bringing the virus home to the children. If schools reopen in two weeks, that may have a domino effect causing a further increase.”