Monday’s opening of a new school year will be different from any other the country has witnessed, thanks to the current coronavirus known as COVID-19.
As with other countries battling the virus, the re-opening of the school year comes with its many challenges from which Saint Lucia is not immune. If truth be told, the challenges facing schools in Saint Lucia are just as severe, or perhaps more so, as in the developed world which has the resources to combat those challenges but is still having a tough time doing so.
Even the mighty United States of America is in the throes of a struggle between teachers unions and the leadership of the federal government as that country’s school year opened. As the coronavirus pandemic rages on in that country, teachers are literally scared to go back inside school buildings. Some teachers have even resigned, while others, frustrated with the guidance coming from leaders of their respective states, were prepared to undertake industrial action.
In Saint Lucia the situation is quite the opposite in that while there are differences between the Saint Lucia Teachers’ Union and the Department of Education regarding proposed measures for the reopening of school come Monday, these differences are not wide enough to cause friction to the point where teachers are fearful to return to school or in a state of panic. Neither are there discussions of a boycott of classes or any sort of industrial action under consideration.
The fact that the Union and the Department of Education met on the subject of how to re-open schools, the protection of students and teachers in this COVID-19 era and other matters dealing with that subject seems to have paid dividends for the country at large. And while we quite understand that the Union will always have questions apropos measures to be implemented in schools across the country, there appears to be an understanding on both sides that the plan as presented by the Department of Education is workable.
Such a reassurance was given by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sharon Belmar-George who stated that the decision to re-open schools was guided by a risk-based approach to retain the health and safety of students, teachers and the whole country.
According to Dr. Belmar-George, evidence-based measures and other factors guided the recommendations and protocols that have been applied to the re-opening of schools such as an understanding of COVID-19 transmission as it relates to children specifically, and the Department of Education’s ability to implement the necessary measures, among others.
In short, the Chief Medical Officer gave the impression that in Saint Lucia there is no present obstacle preventing all schools from re-opening as long as the protocols and measures designed for them are heeded.
In fact, she boldly stated on a GIS programme last week that if the necessary measures, physical distancing and hygiene are applied, schools are unlikely to be the environment for the spread of COVID-19.
We believe that Dr. Belmar-George’s assertions regarding children, COVID-19 and schools re-opening should not be taken in isolation of the community in which the schools exist. We further believe that the control measures to be implemented in schools must be mirrored by those in the community and adopted whole-heartedly by the grown-ups in their various communities on island as only by working together – meaning schools and other institutions, homes and other establishments, organizations, foundations, clubs, societies, etc., – can we succeed in minimizing COVID-19 cases or maintaining a COVID free Saint Lucia.
Children will mimic the adults to whom they look up. Adults, we each have a responsibility.