Just days away from the reopening of Bermuda’s Public Schools, Education Minister Diallo Rabain says he has “met with parents who are understandably apprehensive about the return to school”.

“To assist with the transition, we have incorporated new protocols and practices to facilitate the safe return of our students and staff,” said the Minister.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday (Sept 9) he said “just under 5,000 pre, primary, middle and senior students” will be returning to class next week.

“I’ve met with parents and students across the island who are excited about safely returning to school and to a normal routine,” said Mr Rabain.

“To assist with the transition, we have incorporated new protocols and practices to facilitate the safe return of our students and staff.

“Over the past few month teams from the Ministry of Health and Department of Education have been working diligently to put these new protocols and guidelines in place.

“These guidelines have been used by our private schools to welcome students back over the past two weeks and will be used to welcome all public school students back next week. It has been a tremendous task to produce these guidelines, and we are sincerely grateful for their work.

“This year the facilities team and Public Works have the additional task of getting the building ready following Health guidelines.”

  • Examples of the types of work that has been carried out to get facilities ready are:

Hand Washing Stations: Installation of hand washing stations have been completed at all schools that have one hundred thirty (130) students or more.

Work in Classrooms: Installation of partitions and doors, internal painting, installation of split units, servicing of doors.

At all school, the teams have removed bulk trash, power washed walkways and rafter, and carpets and mats have been removed from all schools.

Plexiglas shields for Admin Assistants: Plexi-glass shields have been successfully completed for the Admin desks.

Posting of signs: Department of Health and the Department’s facilities team have received internal and external signage work in ongoing and will be completed by 12th September.

Windows and screens for ventilation: This task falls under the remit of the Public Works Section, local companies were contracted to do repairs and additions as part of the summer works schedule. Clear Choice, Island Glass & Commercial Glass are the contractors for these services.

Chlorination of tanks: This work was completed by local contractor James Water Service was contracted.

Status of having custodians and day cleaners in all schools: Eight (8) BIU hotel division workers are currently employed to carry out this service at all preschools. The remaining post will be filled following the completed Human Resources procedures.

The Minister thanked the teams from Public Works and Department of Education for their efforts to get the schools prepared for September 14th.

He also noted that the Department of Education secured “large stocks of cleaning and hygiene supplies for schools”.

“These items will be replenished on an ongoing basis to ensure that school have adequate supplies each day.

“Schools have been provided with thermometers, masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, gowns and baby wipes at the preschool level, for staff.

“Work carried out by the IT Section of the department has included upgrading servers and firewalls; expanding Wi-Fi access in primary schools; and working to secure student and teacher laptops. The team ‘s priority at this stage is to ensure classrooms are fully operational for the return of students.”

Commissioner of Education, Kalmar Richards said they were “working closely with the Department of Health over the past five  months to reopen schools responsibly”.

“Our priority is and will continue to be ensuring safe, healthy school environments for our staff and students,” she said.

“As parents prepare to send their children to our schools, we want to reassure parents that we have planned carefully, intentionally and responsibly for the reopening of our schools.”

Several health and safety measures will be implemented to reduce the health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will need the full cooperation of our parents and staff to achieve maximum success,” said Ms Richards.

“The Department of Health has developed protocols or procedures that step out what our school staff will do to keep the environment safe, healthy and productive for students and themselves. The protocols also include what to do if a student or staff becomes unwell during the school day. These protocols are posted on the Ministry of Education’s Website in the COVID-19 section.

“Additionally, the Department of Health has provided school staff with the opportunity for free testing prior to the return of our students.”

Students will be required to wear masks “to and from school and for certain activities”. But students at the middle and senior levels will wear masks throughout the day with intermittent breaks.

As students and parents arrive, “they will participate in a compulsory entry screening which consists of taking temperatures and answering COVID-19 questions before proceeding to their classrooms”.

“As an additional safety measure, parents and non-essential visitors will not be able to enter school buildings until further notice,” said Ms Richards.

“Classrooms have been configured according to 3 feet distancing and students will be organized in “bubbles” which will be maintained throughout each day, including morning, afternoon and lunch breaks.

“Students will be required to follow the safety and health procedures when indoors and out of doors, with main measures being physical distancing; frequent hand washing; respiratory etiquette; and disinfecting personal spaces and equipment.

“The Department is providing our staff with personal protection equipment and ensuring that all classrooms and work spaces have sanitizing and disinfecting supplies available for staff and students to use throughout the day.

“This week all of the Bermuda public school staff are engaging in simulations and training based on the safety and health protocols to help staff gain first-hand knowledge and understanding of the protocols. Staff will also learn how to put on and take of PPE correctly.

“Students who are deemed extremely clinically vulnerable and who are unable to come into the school environment will be provided with a laptop and they will be able to join their teacher and students in their class remotely.

“Schools which will operate morning programmes will notify parents. Afterschool programmes will be run mainly by the Department of Youth and Sports,” she added.

“As parents prepare children for the return to school, it will be important to help students to understand that schools will operate differently and they, the children, need to follow the safety and health protocols which are in place to keep staff, students and ultimately families, safe.

“I extend my gratitude to Department of Health and Department of Education technical officers for their tireless efforts to help us open schools responsibly.

“Success in reopening our schools responsibly and safely depends on the support of the entire community – including Bermuda’s employers – and collaboration between the direct stakeholders of the Bermuda Public School system, that is our parents, our staff and our students.”