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Vijay Maharaj

Even as the Ministry of Education (MoE) has begun discussions with stakeholders about the reopening of schools in January 2022, nothing definitive has been decided and officials say the final decision will rest with the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Noting concerns relating to the third wave of COVID-19 infections currently affecting T&T, however, denominational school board officials yesterday said it might not be the right time to allow students in Forms One to Three back out, as they are still struggling to get a handle on ensuring Forms Four to Six can continue as is.

Acting Secretary-general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS)k, Vijay Maharaj, said the very concept of “social distancing and school are direct opposites to one another. It doesn’t exist, you cannot maintain it. It is impossible.”

He said school officials can try as much as possible to ensure the rules are followed on the school compound.

“The minute they walk out that gate…there are girls holding hands, the fellas putting their hands around shoulders, that type of thing,” he said.

He said it was “taxing” to ensure the rules are observed whilst in school, noting the 99 cases in schools during the past term included 41 students, 43 members of staff and 15 auxiliary personnel.

Agreeing that it would be a low percentage when one considers the number of students who have returned to the physical classroom since October 25, Maharaj said priority must be given to the students who are writing exams.

“With the rise in the numbers in Trinidad within the last two weeks, one has to be very, very careful,” he said.

He said while there are unvaccinated students attending classes daily, the parents of some vaccinated students had decided to stop them from attending in-person classes.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly met with officials of the Association of Denominational Boards of Education (ADBE) yesterday to engage in discussions centred around the reopening of academic Term II next year.

On the continued call for persons 12 years and older to become vaccinated, Maharaj said the European Union this week passed legislation granting permission for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children aged five to 11.

On this point, he said, “We are supposed to be following the trend of the first world countries.”

Maharaj said the SDMS had also been “trying to fight it off” the misinformation that continues to circulate online.

He said their schools continued to enjoy a high level of vaccine compliance and less resistance from parents and students. However, Maharaj said the divide between students attending denominational schools and public secondary schools was only growing “larger and larger.”

He cited lack of access to devices and/or connectivity, along with misinformation, as the main reasons why this chasm was widening daily.

Maharaj urged, “It has reached the stage now where some form of legislation has to be put in place that parents have to be responsible for a child who is of a certain age and their lack of education.”

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board Sharon Mangroo, who was also present during yesterday’s meeting, said they too had been impacted by the COVID-19 virus, as some students and members of staff in some of their schools had tested positive during the term.

Pressed to say what was their recommendation on having Forms One to Three students join their Forms Four to Six peers in the school at the start of the next year, she said, “Our recommendation is no.”

She added, “The recommendation is that supervision is very time consuming and stressful because in addition to teaching, the teachers have to supervise the students.

“You cannot leave them alone at break time. You cannot leave them alone at lunchtime. You cannot leave them to go to the washroom by themselves because they are young people and they are just not social distancing…so we don’t think we are ready for that as yet,” she added.

Presbyterian ADBE Robert Ramsahai meanwhile said the final decision on whether all students in secondary schools would return to school in January 2022, “still remains with the MoH to decide.”