Benedict Hercules helps his son Joshua who enters the Diego Martin Central Secondary School with his new shirt at Bradford City Mall on Henry Street Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Schools will be reopened on October 4th for students in Forms 4 to 6.

So far just over 8,000 Forms Four to Six students have been vaccinated and are expected to return to the classrooms come October 4, when physical school resumes.

In a release yesterday, the Ministry of Education advised that only vaccinated students in Forms Four to Six would be allowed to return next month.

Officials said, “This would remain in effect for both teaching and practical sessions.”

“Arrangements to facilitate teaching and learning at these institutions are ongoing, and the Reopening Guidelines will be made available to Principals within the coming week. Teachers and fully vaccinated students of this cohort are expected to report to schools physically for classes.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has estimated that approximately 37,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 have so far been vaccinated.

This, out of the approximate 90,000 student population eligible to receive Pfizer—the only vaccine which has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in children 12 years and older.

Estimating this country’s cohort of Forms Four to Six students to be around 32,000—Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly yesterday revealed the Ministry of Education (MOE) had undertaken a survey to assess the vaccination status of this group as they plan for a return to the physical classroom on October 4.

Responding to questions via WhatsApp, she confirmed, “We have received, to date, 16,235 responses of which 8,430 indicated they had been vaccinated.”

Pressed about the low numbers being recorded presently, the Minister cautioned, “We will not know the numbers until they turn out on the day.”

Meanwhile, Gadsby-Dolly said, “Teachers are not mandated to be vaccinated at this time to report for duty.”

She indicated the ministry engaged in discussions with all stakeholders with regards to the return to the classrooms.

“Schools will be required to submit to the MOE, on a template to be provided, their individual plans for making curriculum materials available to the students who are not at school physically. This will vary by school, subject and teacher, based on the resources available,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

She continued, “At the ECCE, Primary and Secondary Levels, online school is not a suitable replacement for physical school—this is the reason that all countries of the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, have been working hard to get students back to school, safely. Students being away from physical school contributes greatly to learning loss for a variety of factors.”

In August, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley hinted that a hardline approach may have to be taken against unvaccinated students.

He said if vaccination numbers were still too low by mid-September for herd immunity to be achieved among the 12 to 18 age group, then the Government would act.

TTUTA feels disrespected

And hours after the MOE announced the physical reopening of schools for Forms Four to Six students on October 4, the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) has lashed out, claiming disrespect.

In a release yesterday, TTUTA’s General Secretary Kady Beckles said in announcing the requirements of this most recent policy, the MOE, “has demonstrated the sham that passes for consultation with the Recognised Majority Union, a lack of appreciation for correct procedures, as well as a total disregard for the well-being of education professionals.”

Pointing out the importance of proper communication between the MOE and any stakeholder including TTUTA, Beckles said, “TTUTA, therefore, holds the position that a media release cannot be deemed a legitimate instrument or instruction to secondary school principals to carry out the actions outlined above.”

TTUTA claimed, “It is absolutely disrespectful to education professionals whom the Minister of Education claims to hold in high regard.”

The teachers union has also raised concerns relating to its suggestions that only students of Forms 5 and 6, who were to work on practical components of their different subjects, should be returning to school now.

Beckles claimed, “The approach proposed by the Ministry of Education will be a logistical nightmare for our educators to teach and manage both upper and lower school students in the physical and virtual contexts.”

Beckles said TTUTA had offered various solutions which would allow students to benefit from what is to be delivered this term and also reduce the disruption of the work-life balance of educators.

TTUTA alleged, “Sadly, it appears that only lip service is paid by the Minister to preserving the welfare of educators and students.”