Schools across Antigua and Barbuda will reopen for face-to-face instruction on Monday, October 18 – but only for the upper grades and forms.
Health officials and the Cabinet are confident that, based on the current COVID-19 situation, Grade Six students, as well as Fourth and Fifth Formers, are eligible to attend classroom sessions.
The decision was also based on the vaccination numbers. The Government claims that 85% of the teachers in the public-school system have been vaccinated, and 100% vaccination has been achieved in many private schools.
At the college level, it says that 83% of teachers have been vaccinated.
The vaccination rate for students is over 50 percent, the Ministry of Education claims; hence, vaccinated and unvaccinated students are being permitted to return to the classrooms.
There is no requirement by the Cabinet for the unvaccinated to undergo bi-weekly COVID-19 testing.
However, a secondary-school teacher reports that her colleagues are not comfortable with this decision. She says it cannot be fair for unvaccinated educators to be sent home when children who are not inoculated are being allowed in the classroom.
Speaking at the October 14 post-Cabinet press briefing, Education Director Clare Browne says that recommendation were made to the Cabinet after wide consultations with all the stakeholders. He says they agreed that all children, in all schools, should be given an opportunity, at a reduced number, to return to the classroom.
But following intense debate on the possible impact, it was decided that only the upper grades and forms would return to the physical school plant, Browne says.
Browne says that special attention is to be paid to physically challenged students who require face-to-face instruction. Therefore, the Adele School is expected to receive its full complement, as 100% of its teachers are reportedly vaccinated.
Browne admits that this Cabinet decision has created some difficulty for principals, since most schools were preparing for the Tier Two Education plan.
This would have seen some in-person classes, with a reduced number of students, coupled with remote learning.
Browne says that midterm is set for October 29. He hopes that, following the Independence celebrations, the Cabinet decision will be reviewed – and based on the virus situation, he anticipates that more students will be able to return to face-to-face learning.