Will public schools reopen on January 5, 2022?

As it stands now – time will tell, as the standoff between the Ministry of Education and the Bermuda Union of Teachers continues. Only this time, the teachers union has called on the powers that be to have a rethink, in light of the Omicron variant.

In a statement released by the Ministry last night, a spokeswoman said schools will reopen on January 5 with in-class learning as planned, in spite of the safety concerns cited by the union.

The BUT says it is not safe for either students or teachers to go back to school in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

This after health officials announced that there were 406 new cases reported in the latest round of 13,772 tests. There are currently 522 active cases on-island.

The Ministry maintains that teacher will return to school on January 4 with students returning on January 5 as planned. And while the Ministry is set to move to Phase 2, the BUT has called on the Government to revert to remote learning.

A spokesperson for the BUT said: “Unfortunately, the sudden upturn in positive Covid-19 test results has significantly strained Bermuda’s testing process and machinery.

“We have been advised that our local labs will not be able to process the required number of tests for schools to open on January 5, 2022 safely.

“The current increase in Omicron variant Covid-19 cases has put predictable stress on Bermuda’s testing facility. Plodding ahead with any wholesale testing schedule for school students and staff at this juncture could send Bermuda down a very dire path indeed.

“We do not believe that it is wise or safe to push on with school openings at this juncture. Furthermore, based on many consultations with medical professionals, we contend that it would be egregiously irresponsible for the Ministry of Education to move ahead with their current plan.

“Considering that our current case count is very close to what it was on the scheduled start date for this current school year (September 9, 2021), we feel it is prudent to consider a similar plan to what was implemented back then.

“While remote learning continues to evolve, it must be considered a contingency for dealing with this potentially deadly spike in COVID-19 cases.

“The entire world is responding to this new viral strain with great caution, and we do not believe that it would be sensible of us to turn a blind eye to this threat and allow our members to be sent back to a possibly very dangerous environment.”

Earlier this month, the teachers’ union urged teachers not to get tested during their holiday time – before January 4 – saying that testing during holidays infringed on its members’ rights.

The Government stuck by its decision refusing to facilitate testing before January 4.

Meanwhile, Acting Minister of Education, Tinée Furbert, stated: “We are seeing an increase in cases; therefore protocols for Phase 2 are in place for the return to school on the 4th and 5th January 2022. Staff and parents who have not booked appointments for pre-return tests are urged to do so as soon as possible as the testing schedule commences tomorrow, January 1st.

“We know that our students benefit more from in-person learning. Therefore, to ensure a safe learning environment our schools will open for in-person learning for Term 2 with staff and students providing negative pre-return tests before entering school buildings on January 4th and 5th, and with schools adhering strictly to the daily entry screenings and Department of Health protocols for Phase 2. Schools will also continue with weekly saliva screenings as another safety layer.

“As of this afternoon (Dec 31), MDL reported that 3,168 appointments have been booked of which 485 are staff and 2,683 are students. These numbers do not include staff and students testing at private sites.

“The most critical factor is the availability of staff to be present and ready to resume in-class teaching, and for students to be prepared for in-class learning on 5th January 2022.

“The Ministry of Education wishes to thank all staff and parents who have already booked their tests and urges all of Bermuda to continue to stay safe during this holiday period.

“To register for COVID testing:

Teachers: https://schoolstaff.resqwest.com/
Students: https://schools.resqwest.com/

“For information regarding Phase 2 link here