St Lucia principals’ group ‘surprised’ by decision to keep schools open

Castries – The National Principals Association (NPA) says it is surprised at the decision of the Minister of Education Shawn Edward to allow face-to-face classes to continue despite a surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in recent days.

“We were anticipating it was a given that we need to close schools for a while, and so we were taken by surprise,” NPA president, Valerie St Helene-Henry, told the online publication, St Lucia Times following Edward’s statement at a news conference.

“We as an executive plan to write formally to request an audience so we can get a clearer picture as to what is going on and the way forward. I know we are in a fluid situation and maybe by the end of this week the decision can change,” she said, adding that the NPA thinks that based on the critical situations happening that schools should have been closed as of Tuesday.

Edward told reporters that after analysis of the situation and consultation with the Ministry of Health, a decision had been taken not to close schools.

He said that the authorities believe that keeping children in school “for the time being” is the best decision in the current circumstances.

“The situation with COVID-19 is a very, very dynamic one and the situation can change in a space of a few hours. If at all the situation in country worsens, we will have absolutely no hesitation to close schools.

“But we are saying given the data that is before us, given the deliberations we have had with the Ministry of Health, we believe that it is still the best decision to keep the children in school for the time being.

“We know there are a few schools that have been impacted. There are a few schools where both students and teachers have been impacted, but we do not believe that has happened on a scale to close down the entire school system which would cause us to have approximately 28 000 children at home,” Edward said, reiterating that COVID-19 is a disrupter and game-changer not only for the education sector but almost every facet of human endeavour.

“St Lucia as a country has not been spared. These are very challenging times for us but we have to summon the courage to make the tough decisions,” Edward said, adding that for his ministry and the government, the number one priority is the health and safety of the children, teachers, principals, and ancillary staff.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness in a statement said that as of January 15, the island had diagnosed 17 222 cases, with 3 280 active cases presently.

It said the daily infection rate for the last seven days is 171.6 per 100 000 population per day, with a 36 per cent testing positivity rate and a transmission rate of 3.3. St Lucia has registered a total of 314 COVID-19 deaths with 29 positive cases admitted at the Respiratory Hospital, two of them are severely ill.

The ministry said that since the start of the fifth wave on December 16 last year, 4 092 cases have been diagnosed with an average of 136 cases per day.

It said women account for 59 per cent of the cases. Tourists account for two per cent of the cases diagnosed during the last seven days and that the increase is noted mainly in northern areas of Gros-Islet and Babonneau, the capital Castries and the eastern village of Dennery with the latter registering the highest COVID-19 mortality rate for the fifth wave.

“We continue to note increases in most of the public health indicators over the last seven days, the transmission rate, test positivity rate, increased active cases as we manage the fifth wave in country. Data collected from contact tracing interviews revealed the top areas of transmission include large beach parties and boat rides, public bars and private parties and events and large family gatherings.”

The ministry noted that the school terms has started and “we continue to ask all stakeholders to contribute in ensuring a safe environment for the students, principals, teachers and ancillary staff”. Bus drivers are reminded to ensure that all recommended measures are implemented”.

The authorities called on people here to get vaccinated, urging parents to cooperate and work closely with the class teacher on various safety measures put in place. (CMC)

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