Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, By Alicia Dunkley-Willis – FINANCIAL and other challenges, made worse by the novel coronavirus pandemic, have forced the closure of seven private schools, with Government fighting to save an additional three from going under as preparations for the reopening of schools next week heighten.

The Ministry of Education, in response to questions from the the Jamaica Observer on the number of private schools that will not be reopening this month, said “between January 2020 and the present, 10 approved independent schools communicated their intention to close to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information’s Independent Schools Unit”.

It said the unit had initiated discussions with the proprietors and directors to ascertain the reasons for the decision to close and was told that, “financial and other circumstances, which preceded the advent of the [novel coronavirus] pandemic” were the reasons for closure “in all the schools”. The ministry, however said, “some administrators indicated that the pandemic worsened their existing situations, hence the closure at this time”.

The ministry, however, declined to name the entities which have closed or those it is attempting to save.

Yesterday, Dr Faithlyn Wilson, president of the Jamaica Independent Schools’ Association (JISA), which represents approximately 150 of the just over 600 private schools in the island, said only two JISA schools — Quest Preparatory and D’Marie Institute, both in the Corporate Area — had folded due the pandemic. Wilson, who said she did not know the names of the 10 schools that had reached out to the ministry, said the fact that most of the schools had remained afloat was indicative of the level of resilience and sacrifice by stakeholders.

“I am really happy that the figure is as small as it is. It really goes to show how resilient we are because JISA schools… are not profit-making entities. Many of our schools are charities and church schools and that kind of thing, but we know we are serving a good purpose,” Wilson told the Observer.

“One school called me this morning and she said our teachers were not paid for the month of August, but they are still working. It has been taking a lot of sacrifice. At my school, for example, for five months we all took half pay. That doesn’t show up in the public eye, but it is at extreme sacrifice,” she added.

“There are a number of schools where the student population has dropped significantly and that is really because the parents’ income has dropped. In addition to that, many of the parents are saying online doesn’t meet their needs because it’s a sacrifice to pay the school fees and on top of that pay for care at home.They just cannot afford it,” she pointed out.

In the meantime the education ministry, in responding to queries on how it will address the need for additional spaces in the public school system to accommodate displaced students, said it has “extended the opportunity for broadening the existing partnership with independent schools in providing space for students at the secondary level”.

“This partnership, which has a tenure of seven years, redounds to the sustained viability of some of our independent schools. In this arrangement, schools will enjoy a relationship with the ministry whereby students will be placed in independent schools where there is a challenge in placing students in public high schools,” the ministry stated.

It said, depending on the number of students placed in these schools, up to three teachers’ salaries may be supplemented.

“In this arrangement, independent schools can continue to serve and earn from their usual clientèle while earning from the ministry on a per capita placement basis. This arrangement has injected new capital in these institutions. Of note, following the placement of students in the 2020-2021 academic year and the annual audit conducted October through to January, confirmed that Government-placed students were being served in 56 independent schools through this arrangement,” it said further.

Education Minister Fayval Williams last Tuesday indicated that students will be taught remotely come Monday, September 6 when schools officially reopen — on account of the rising number of COVID-19 infection cases in the island which is experiencing a third wave. In a bid to speed up the return to face-to-face instructions the Government has embarked on a programme of vaccination for children 12 to 18, subject to parental consent.