FLASHBACK - Education Minister Dr Nyan Gasby-Dolly speaks to students in a class at the ASJA Girls’ College in Chaguanas in October 2021. Accompanying her is Minister in the Ministry, Lisa Morris-Julian.

As thousands of secondary school students in Forms Four to Six returned to the physical classrooms yesterday, troubling reports have surfaced from some parents, who revealed that vaccinated students were bullying unvaccinated students as the two groups met face-to-face.

Interim chairman of the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) Zena Ramatali described this as an alarming development no one had anticipated.

“There were cases before of cyber-bullying when they were online and now, the vaccinated are having issues with the unvaccinated,” Ramatali said.

She called for greater emphasis to be placed on educating students to avoid any further escalation.

Ramatali added, “We have to teach our children how to be our brother’s keeper because this is a pandemic and both sets of students are out.”

Apart from this, she said, “Generally, things went well.”

Ramatali reminded students to always remember to keep their masks on, sanitise and avoid mingling – especially during the lunch and recess periods and before and after school, as some students were seen to be doing yesterday.

Minister tours schools

During a visit to four schools in the central district yesterday, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly urged students to avoid touching and hugging in order to avoid another lockdown.

Touring the Chaguanas North Secondary School; Chaguanas South Secondary School and the ASJA Boys’ and Girls’ Colleges, Gadsby-Dolly, along with Minister in the Education Ministry, Lisa Morris-Julian, underscored the importance of safety measures such as the socially-distanced arrangement of classrooms, masking of all school personnel and the implementation of entry protocols which included thermal scanning and hand washing.

Gadsby-Dolly said some schools had engaged in rotational schedules to ensure that social distancing protocols are maintained.

A breakdown from the minister indicated that 16,688 students were rostered to attend school physically yesterday, with 9,907 or 59.3 per cent reporting to school.

During the period October 11-15, the ministry said a daily average of 5,654 students were rostered for physical school attendance, with the average daily attendance standing at 3,822 students.

At denominational schools yesterday, 3,459 students were present physically, compared to the daily average of 2,061 during October 11-15.

At the government schools, 6,448 students were present on October 25, compared to the daily average of 1,760 during October 11-15.

APPSS: Positive feedback

President of the Association of Principals of Public Secondary School (APPSS), Sherra Carrington-James, said, “The feedback generally is that the turnout was a lot more positive than we would have expected…the turnout could have been between 70 to 75 per cent attendance generally across our schools, which is good.”

She said she had not heard of any incidents or accidents yesterday, but called on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to ensure funds are disbursed in a timely manner to schools so that sanitising works can be done as they should.

“We had some supplies which came through our district offices in very measured quantities, so we don’t see that being sustainable and we’d much prefer that allocation be given in a timely manner,” Carrington-James said.

SDMS reports almost full capacity

Acting general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), Vijay Maharaj, said while their schools in Penal were affected by floodwaters, the five secondary schools spread across the country resumed operations at almost full capacity.

However, he reported, “Children, at break time, wanted to congregate and the teachers and janitorial staff were having a little bit of difficulty to keep them apart.”

He admitted students just really wanted “to talk, chat and catch up” with each other after being away from each other physically for more than a year.

At Vishnu Boys’ Hindu College, Caroni, Maharaj said between 84 and 88 per cent of students in Forms Four to Six turned up for classes.

And at Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, St Augustine, there was almost 100 per cent student attendance in Form Six; while attendance levels in Form Four and Five were estimated to be upwards of 90 per cent.

Catholic Board says mostly normal turnout

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board, Sharon Mangroo, provided an analysis from their schools which revealed that operations had resumed as normal in most places.

At Presentation College, Chagaunas, only Upper Six students attended school yesterday, while at Presentation College, San Fernando, the first half of Forms Four and Five attended school, bringing the total number of students to 100.

At the Matelot Community School, only three out of 10 Form Four students attended school.

At St Joseph’s College, 91 students turned up, comprising 13 out of 26 Form Four students; and 78 out of 109 Form Five students.

At St Francis Boys’ College, Belmont, officials said 66 out of 77 Form Four students attended school, while 60 out of 72 Form Five students were present.

Commenting on the resumption, T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said, “We are monitoring the situation and we are getting feedback from our members, and we will issue information to the media in due course. That is all I am at liberty to say right now.”