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CMO: Return to All-Day School for BHS and WAHS Depends on School Safety


by Kevon Browne

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): What would it take for students from the Basseterre High School (BHS) and Washington Archibald High School (WAHS) to return to full school days?

The schools have been on a shift system through the COVID-19 Pandemic because of the schools’ populations, with BHS having 700 students and WAHS having 800 students with an average of 30-34 students per class.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws answered that question during the recent COVID-19 briefing hosted by the National Emergency Operations Center.

“The answer to that question depends on school safety. When we refer to school safety in the context of COVID-19, what do we really mean? Okay, so in the school setting, we want students, teachers, and support staff, the auxiliary staff to adhere to all the COVID-19 prevention measures; wearing a face mask, adequate hand sanitisation before entering the school during school hours and after school, physical and social distancing. However, when you have schools like Washington Archibald and Basseterre High School, with a high population, an average of 34 students per class, we may not be able to depend on physical and social [distance] to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus,” said Dr Laws on December 22.

According to Dr. Laws, returning to all-day school for those two highly populated institutions hinges on vaccination coverage of the 12-17-year-olds.

“What do we have to depend on? We have to depend on the vaccination coverage of all teachers. We have to depend on the vaccination coverage of the auxiliary staff and the support staff, and we have to depend on the vaccination coverage of the teenagers, the 12 to 17-year-olds attending our secondary schools. So as we approach the second term of this academic school year, it would be nice if the students, 12 to 17 years, they come on board in terms of being vaccinated… The safety within our schools will be ensured, and then the risk of exposure would be reduced and then we can easily resume all-day school at all the schools.”

The Chief Medical Officer also warned that the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus could threaten normal operations of schools because of the low vaccine coverage of the 12-17-year-olds which according to the Tuesday, December 21 stats have 15.8 percent of the target, 4,800, receiving the first dose and 13.4 receiving the second.

“So if Delta or the Omicron variant comes at present, [it will impact] out students, it can impact classes, classes may be disrupted. So, ladies and gentlemen, we must do all we can to prevent school closure in the future.”

In consultation with the Ministry of Education, Dr. Laws reported that school closures hurt academic achievement and also noted that there has been an increase in the drop-out rate of students 16-years and older.

“The literature tells us that school closure has a negative impact on academic achievement, and this is more so for students from families of a low socioeconomic status. And so, we really want to protect and guard instructional time during school. The Ministry also notes an increase in the dropout rate of students aged 16-years and over. So it’s very important that we protect and guide instructional time. How can we do so? By ensuring school safety. School Safety is the way to protect instructional time.”


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