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A cyclist rides past the Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School yesterday. The school was shut down after the parent of a SEA pupil tested positive for COVID-19.

Rishard Khan

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For the second time in less than a week, a primary school in T&T has been forced shut and staff and students sent into self-quarantine over fears they may have contracted COVID-19 through a pupil’s relative.

The Tacarigua Presbyterian Primary School closed yesterday after the father of an 11-year-old Standard 5 student attending Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) preparation classes tested positive for the virus.

The news has so scared parents across the country that some are now refusing to send their children to school for further SEA classes.

Guardian Media learned yesterday, however, that this situation was brewing since another SEA pupil at the Maraval RC tested positive for the virus last week and there is also call for the exam to be either postponed again or brought forward from August 20.

Noting parents’ concerns yesterday, National Parent Teachers’ Association (NPTA) acting president Clarence Mendoza said his membership believes the exam should be postponed or brought forward to limit the possibility of further exposure for students and staff.

“They are clearly stating that at this point in time, the Ministry of Education under the directive of the Chief Personnel Officer, that all schools with their exams should be postponed until further notice. Our students’ lives are at risk and I don’t think we should go any further in looking at August 20 to put forth an examination,” Mendoza told Guardian Media in a telephone interview.

The NPTA, he said, is also seeking an urgent meeting with all stakeholders on the developments.

T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) meanwhile president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said they will be meeting Ministry of Education officials today on the development. She said the ministry’s previous COVID guidelines may need adjusting based on what they’ve witnessed in recent days. In the meantime, she advised members to “do what you have to do to safeguard yourself and let us follow all the necessary protocols.”

Rachiel Ramsamooj, an administrator for a SEA Parent Support Facebook group which has over 10,000 members, told Guardian Media parents became concerned since last week when the first COVID case hit Maraval RC in their first week back out for SEA preparation.

“Parents have decided to keep their children home from Thursday last week and they are just waiting to see what happens – if the exam continues at the set date, which is August 20 and they choose not to send their children to school and to just send them to the exam,” Ramsamooj told Guardian Media.

Calls to Minister of Education Anthony Garcia for comment went unanswered yesterday.

During yesterday’s virtual press conference, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh was asked about the possibility of changing the SEA date again due to the latest developments. While saying the responsibility for the exam fell under the domain of the Education Ministry, Deyalsingh noted: “The date was set via cabinet note so any alterations of that date would not be the remit of the Ministry of Health. If we are asked by the Ministry of Education to provide any technical advice, medical advice – we stand ready to do so.”

The latest COVID case is a 43-year-old Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation (TPRC) worker who resides in Arima. He was reportedly symptomatic for six days and did not isolate himself from his family or the public and dropped his child to school last week.

The corporation was shut down yesterday for sanitisation while nine employees were sent for tests to determine if they had contracted COVID-19.

Principal Medical Officer, Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, Dr Naresh Nandran, said yesterday that the man, case 148, was detected on Sunday at the Arima Health Facility.

“During the course of last night, we’ve been in contact with the principal of that school and have advised that the school be closed and we’re in the process of contact tracing the students and their families,” Nandran said during the virtual press conference.

Guardian Media was also told the Arima Municipal Corporation police department was also shut down yesterday as the child of an officer was in the Tacarigua Presbyterian SEA class. Ten municipal officers were sent home.