PHILIPSBURG — Today, Monday, November 9, 2020, makes exactly three weeks since schools on St. Maarten began the phased implementation of in person instruction. The process began with Exam students and Special Education Students on October 19th, 2020, and continued with the return of vulnerable students as per October 26th, 2020.
Students of these three groups of all subsidized school boards and the Division Public Education, except the FAVE schools, returned to instruction over the last three weeks after their schools successfully finalized and implemented their safety plans for the delivery of in-person education in the COVID-19 Pandemic.
According to CPS as per November 3, 2020, since schools partially reopened for in-class instruction, there has been one (1) active case of COVID-19 in a school. Due to possible exposure to the infected person, eleven (11) persons were placed in quarantine. This comprising of eight (8) students and three (3) staff members.
As of November 6, 2020, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) has received reports from four school boards informing of seven (7) cases of COVID-19. Six (6) of these cases involved adults and one (1) case involved a child. CPS is working very closely with the Ministry of ECYS to ensure that children and staff that are currently in school remain healthy and will continue to closely monitor as all students return.
Several unscheduled inspections have been conducted by the Division of Inspection ECYS to assess the level of compliance of schools with their plans for education delivery, which were approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport. The results of the inspections indicate that schools are generally, not fully adhering to the protocols and safety guidelines as established in the Education Continuity Plan amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Commonly observed breaches of compliance are that some schools have removed the floor markings, classrooms are rearranged from the approved layout which took social distancing protocols into account, regular sanitation of facilities are not taking place, education personnel has been observed not wearing masks and some schools have to enhance the sanitation and temperature screenings upon entry. Schools have been advised to address the breaches and follow-up inspections will take place. During the next weeks, unscheduled inspections by the Inspection of ECYS and VSA are expected to intensify.
Today also marks exactly one week before November 16th, 2020, when all Students are expected to return to in-person instruction, using Approach 3 of the Education Continuity Plan. Given the continued community spread, in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of educational personnel, students, their families and the wider community, it is of utmost importance that educational institutions adhere to the health protocols established by the Ministry of ECYS in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour (VSA).
Although all students are expected to return, school boards are expected to ensure that all persons utilizing the school compound wear a mask, practice two-meter social distancing, and practice regular hand washing. Where a two-meter social distancing cannot be adhered to, schools are expected to deliver education using a blended or staggered approach. Facilitating some students in the classroom and other students using a distance learning mode of delivery and or instructing different groups of students on campus at different times of the day.
“The commitment of education professionals over the last few weeks to implement all safety measures within their schools is most commendable. Through their efforts, all schools have approved safety plans and most have begun their implementation. I commend schools for reporting of (suspected) cases to their staff, parents, students, and the Ministry, to ensure that cases of COVID-19 in the school environment do not remain unaccounted for, with the possibility to lead to clusters within our schools.
“Education must continue, but we must remain vigilant and ensure that education is delivered in the safest possible environment. I would like to inform schools that have let their guard down and have not been maintaining the health protocols to rejoin the majority of schools in ensuring that the health and safety of all persons utilizing the school’s compound are safeguarded. I would also like to call on school managers, teachers, students, and parents to become fully aware of your school’s safety plans and to help your school community to adhere to the health protocols for the wellbeing of your colleagues, your friends, and your children. We can deliver in-person education within our schools, and we must hold each other accountable for doing such.”
As all students return to school using Approach 3 of the Education Continuity Plan, the following rules will apply. There must be a properly-established school setting and ability to maintain COVID-19 prevention and control measures while operating at 100%. Control measures include that all persons on the school compound must wear a mask, practice two-meter social distancing, and practice regular sanitation. In the event schools are unable to maintain these health measures, plans must be put in place for blended and or staggered education delivery.