Education Minister Diallo Rabain announced plans to reopen public schools in September 2020 in the House of Assembly on Friday, amid concerns regarding “the safety, health and well-being of all students and staff”, in the midst of a global pandemic.
All three “will remain our priority”, said Minister Rabain, who explained various aspects of the plan as it relates to wearing masks, screening and social distancing.
When the school bell rings this September however, school days “have been adjusted to accommodate the daily safety and health protocols that will be followed, and to implement staff and student wellness activities”.
“Schools will allocate 30 minutes each morning for entry procedures which will involve taking students’ temperatures, guiding students through hand washing and other safety protocols before they arrive in their respective classrooms,” said Mr Rabain.
“This schedule will also include a staff and student morning and afternoon wellness break to support staff and student well-being.
“To start the school reopening process, in August all schools will be deep cleaned once again and inspected using a standardized inspection form.
“Water tanks at all schools will be chlorinated to ensure the water supply is safe for drinking and washing of hands.
“Safety and health signs will be posted throughout the school buildings as a constant reminder to staff and students of following safety and health protocols.
“An adequate supply of cleaning supplies and hygiene essentials for staff and students has been secured and will be available at the start of the school year in September,” he added.
“All students and teacher’s desks were rearranged, and classrooms were reconfigured to align with the physical distancing protocol of six feet. This meant that a classroom that held 20 students previously, now only holds 10 students with physical distancing. Therefore, two classroom spaces will be needed instead of one.”
“However, students at all school levels who become ill during the school day would be required to wear a mask, if tolerated, and isolated and supervised until they are collected by a parent or guardian.
“School staff at all levels will be required to wear face masks throughout the day, while they are on the premises and in the building, including when they are in close contact with children or their colleagues.”
Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:
We are all aware that COVID-19 is still very present with us; and will be around in months ahead. With this in mind, opening our public schools safely, and being able to stay open requires the careful and thorough planning. The good news is that the reopening of schools safely is possible, and has been achieved in countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Denmark and others. Additionally, the reopening of schools is strongly supported by the fraternities of Pediatricians both locally and overseas. Therefore, I am pleased to share that technical officers in the Department of Education have worked assiduously during the past months to develop a COVID-19 System School Reopening Plan for receiving our children in September 2020. As a result of this work, all school buildings will be open.
You will recall that back in May, I gave a report that the preparatory work being undertaken for the reopening of our public schools, involved the development of a System Plan comprising four components:
- Planning for reopening
- Preparation of School Buildings
- Recovery to transition staff and students back into normalcy; and
- Implementation of a Hybrid Learning Model
Let me first speak to the reopening component. Again, in light of COVID 19 significant time and effort was put into developing the specific safety and health protocols for every public school level. The Department has observed several comments and questions on the various social media platforms, and received many queries asking what will our public schools look like in September. Parents want to know how will children be kept safe, and what is planned for physical distancing?
Due to the heightened concern, I felt the need to prepare a separate Statement on just the safety and health protocols for public schools to provide our parents, guardians and the general public with an in depth account of the extensive detail officers in the Department of Education and Health have taken into consideration to ensure the safety of our public school students is a priority. I will read that Statement next.
The physical preparation of our school buildings was another significant component of System Planning. Since the closure of schools back in March, our school custodians have consistently worked towards maintaining the cleanliness of the schools, ventilating the school buildings, and implementing the deep cleaning and sanitizing processes. However, in May, during the building walkthrough pre-testing of the safety and health protocols, teams discovered that many classrooms were cluttered with items not appropriate for classroom environments.
Also, many items in classrooms had the potential to adversely impact the air quality and were taking up much needed space. To rectify this, school staff were required to declutter classrooms to meet basic safety and health guidelines. Subsequently, inspections were carried out at the end of the school year at all 36 school sites, to ensure adherence to guidelines.
To start the school reopening process, in August all schools will be deep cleaned once again and inspected using a standardized inspection form. Water tanks at all schools will be chlorinated to ensure the water supply is safe for drinking and washing of hands. Safety and health signs will be posted throughout the school buildings as a constant reminder to staff and students of following safety and health protocols.
Custodians will be following a daily cleaning and sanitizing regime developed by the Department of Health. In instances where there are staff shortages for cleaning, daytime cleaners will be hired to fulfill the need of frequent sanitizing and cleaning. As such, the Department of Education will be collaborating with the Department of Workforce Development to secure cleaners for those schools. An adequate supply of cleaning supplies and hygiene essentials for staff and students has been secured and will be available at the start of the school year in September.
Setting up classrooms in compliance with physical distancing protocols has meant that schools needed to find additional spaces to hold classes. All students and teacher’s desks were rearranged, and classrooms were reconfigured to align with the physical distancing protocol of six feet. This meant that a classroom that held 20 students previously, now only holds 10 students with physical distancing. Therefore, two classroom spaces will be needed instead of one.
This reconfiguration of the school’s physical environment will impact what learning looks like in September. For example, a teacher who is teaching their class may be face to face with one group, while the other group that is physically onsite in another room, accessing the lesson remotely under the supervision of another qualified teacher. This reconfiguration will require the Department to increase the number of teachers on site. Some of our schools will be using common areas for teaching such as the assembly hall, computer lab, art room, music room, learning support room, and reading room.
Let me close by saying that to effectively support reopening schools in September 2020, a comprehensive communication plan and strategy will be implemented during the months of July and August. Communication is an area the Department of Education recognizes the need to enhance with stakeholders. A communication plan has been developed that incorporates using a broad range of social media, digital, online and media platforms. This will occur to ensure parents have sufficient information in advance of September to understand what the reopening of public schools will involve for their children.
We encourage our Educational Family to continue to use the BPSS Family Feedback form to send in their questions, concerns and kudos about the work taking place in our schools and at the Department of Education. Thank You, Mr. Speaker.
School Entry & Exit Safety & Health Protocols:
During the Shelter in Place quarantine back in April this year, the Commissioner of Education reached out to Technical Officers in the Department of Health to seek their lead with developing safety and health protocols for all of our public schools.
Specifically, there was a request for protocols for each aspect of a student’s participation in a school day.
The intent was for the Department of Education to know what safety and health procedures would be required from the time a student arrives on the school premises, enters the school building, walks to their classroom, participates in class lessons, visits the bathroom, goes to lunch, to leaving at the end of the school day. In essence, Mr. Speaker, a student’s movement on a typical day was tracked and then a protocol was designed around that movement. Also, the aim was to develop an Entry to Exit Safety and Health Protocol for each school level – preschool, primary, middle, senior, and also our special school, Dame Marjorie Bean Hope Academy (DAME).
Detailed information was received for all school levels and shared with the technical officer in the Department of Health who used the information to develop and frame the safety and health protocols. It is important to note that current research, the input from school staff, and the input from Health professionals were all key factors and information considered.
In May, the first draft version of Entry to Exit Protocols had been developed for each public school level. The draft protocols were shared with all school leaders for their initial input and subsequent feedback from their school’s COVID-19 Response Team. Several iterations were developed reflecting a high degree of thoroughness and diligence to obtain a sound framework of school safety and health protocols.
The protocols were pre-tested for each school level to determine feasibility, practicality and to get additional feedback on what revisions were needed. A pre-testing schedule was established for one full week in May, and teams were asked to do the walkthrough of the protocols at our largest schools at each level. The walkthroughs were held at Warwick Preschool, West Pembroke Primary School, Dellwood Middle School, and our special school DAME. The pre-testing teams comprised Department of Education office staff, Department of Health representatives, Custodians, School Principals, and representatives from all three Unions.
The development of the safety and health protocols for the senior school level was delayed at that time as the senior schools were continuing with remote learning for all students. However, the feedback obtained from the pre-testing exercise was meaningful and supported the refining of the safety and health school protocol documents. Once the Entry to Exit Safety and Health protocols were finalized, each school Principal was provided a copy to customize for their respective school building. This process was completed in June 2020 prior to the end of the school term.
Several Department of Education technical officers such as school psychologists, curriculum officers, IT technicians, mentor teachers and student services officers visit our schools on a daily basis to serve both teachers and students. As such, the Department of Health Officer is currently working to finalize specific safety and health protocols for Department of Education technical officers which will ensure that we cover all bases in ensuring safe school buildings.
The Entry to Exit Safety and Health Protocols are comprehensive documents that reflect the current research, the input of school staff, union representatives and the technical expertise of staff from the Department of Health. The detailed guidance constitutes an appropriate mix of rigour and realism for the educational setting. The protocols aim to:
- provide safety and health guidelines for school operations,
- keep sick students and staff out of school buildings, and
- ensure an adequate response when someone is found to be ill on the school premises
I will now share a few highlights of the entry to exit protocols that were developed.
- i. Upon arrival at the schools in the morning, a screening will take place to ensure children are free of symptoms of COVID-19 or any other illness.
- ii. This screening includes temperature checks, a three-point questionnaire and appropriate follow up measures.
- iii. Parents will be required to wear face coverings when on the school premises; and will not be allowed into school buildings to ensure a healthy and safe “bubble.”
- iv. A key feature of our safety plan is the use of ‘bubbles’ consisting of the same group of children. Children will remain in their bubbles and observe appropriate physical distances.
- v. Preschoolers, Primary and Middle School students will not be required to wear masks at this time.
Senior school students will be required to wear face masks while on school premises. However, students at all school levels who become ill during the school day would be required to wear a mask, if tolerated, and isolated and supervised until they are collected by a parent or guardian. School staff at all levels will be required to wear face masks throughout the day, while they are on the premises and in the building, including when they are in close contact with children or their colleagues.
Other protocols include:
- The installation of signs and floor markings as reminders for the now well-known preventative practices – hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and physical distancing.
- School staff will supervise outside play in ‘bubbles’ consisting of the same group of children who will be asked to engage in contactless play and observe appropriate physical distances.
- All equipment used by children and staff will be sanitized before and after use, and children will not share equipment and supplies.
- Staff will be subject to similar restrictions with movement around the school building, and leaving the school facility during the day for appointments will be discouraged.
As shared earlier in this Statement, the Entry to Exit Safety and Health protocols were developed for every school level – preschools, primary, middle, senior, and our special school DAME. These protocols will be posted on the Department of Education’s Website at www.moed.bm for access by parents, guardians and the general public. Individual schools will be asked to post the customized protocols on their respective school websites. Developing these protocols was a mammoth task.
The Ministry and Department of Education extend our deepest gratitude to Nurse Lynn Jackson and Healthy Schools Coordinator, Ms. Marie Beach from the Department of Health for their diligence and the countless hours spent developing the protocols and working with the Commissioner of Education. I also must extend my thanks to Department of Education Staff, Principals, school staff and Union stakeholders for their contributions to the development of these comprehensive safety and health protocols for our schools for the protection of staff and students.
We encourage our Educational Family to continue to use the BPSS Family Feedback form to send in their questions, concerns and kudos about the work taking place in our schools and at the Department of Education. Lastly, we encourage our parents and the general public to visit www.moed.bm to review the COVID 19 Entry to Exit Safety and Health Protocols developed in preparation for the reopening of all public schools in September 2020.