GUT President to teachers: Avoid unsafe classrooms

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The Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) has called on its members to avoid entering classrooms where the physical distancing protocol is not being observed.

At the re-opening of schools in September, due to the physical distancing requirement, all students were not attending classes daily but on certain days per week and in some cases, for reduced hours per day.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education, acting on the advice of the Ministry of Health, removed the 3-feet physical distancing in schools and instructed schools to operate at full capacity, ensuring the other protocols are kept such as wearing masks and hand hygiene.

However, the GUT insists that this change creates an unsafe teaching and learning environment.

In a statement on the issue earlier this week, GUT President Marvin Andall expressed, “every worker has the right to preserve their health and life. We cannot stop the ministry from removing physical distancing in our schools but we can stop ourselves from entering an unsafe classroom. The union calls on its members to refrain from entering classrooms where physical distancing is not observed. We stand firm on this one. The best teacher is one that is still alive.”

Andall said most countries are following the WHO recommendation on having physical distancing in schools and pointed out that other countries in the Caribbean are maintaining physical distancing in schools, even Anguilla with no active COVID-19 up to press day on Thursday.

President Andall stated that when Grenada had zero active cases, this protocol was observed in schools but now that Grenada has three active cases, schools are being asked to disregard that protocol while however it is being observed elsewhere. Added to that, he stressed that individuals and businesses are being fined for not observing that COVID-19 protocol yet it is to be disregarded in schools.

The GUT leader made noteworthy that each teacher and student in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) were presented with a mask, and extra sinks for the washing of hands were provided in each school. In addition, he said trained personnel takes the temperature of students and teachers on arrival to school each morning.

However, temperatures are not taken at schools in Grenada as the Ministry of Health said this was not necessary.

Andall said “promises were made to make schools safer and they remain just that – a promise.”     

President of the Grenada Trades Union Council and the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTUC) Andre Lewis also called on the ministry to revisit this decision.

Adding his voice to the issue on a local call-in radio programme this week, Lewis expressed that the ministry was expected to provide adequate facilities such as sinks, and items such as disinfectants, to mitigate against the possible infection and spread of COVID-19 among the students.

Minister of Education, Hon Emmalin Pierre in a previous interview with this newspaper said the Ministry did not commit to installing sinks in all schools, pointing to this as impossible. She added that this is one of the reasons there was a move to reduce the number of students at school at any given time, to manage the number of students using sinks.

President Lewis in his bid for the ‘serious’ matter to be addressed said, “We call upon the Ministry of Education and the Minister to do what is right to ensure that as we face this second wave as we continue to reopen our borders that they young ones are protected,” he said.

Lewis noted that teachers have been going above and beyond and “it is unfair and unsafe for them to be aware that the issues that needed to be addressed in the schools have not been fully done and to have all the students return – jampacked, rubbing up with each other.”

He also urged parents to not see this as a matter impacting only teachers noting that “when our children go to the schools and are possibility exposed, it can be brought back to the home.”

The GTUC president said the labour movement advises that everything possible must be done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He stated that if the country enters a second lockdown the working class will be greatly impacted, noting that the Prime Minister had said that the country may not have funds to give a second round of stimulus package to those impacted.

Minister Pierre refrained from commenting to this newspaper on the GUT’s recent statement, noting that at a recent meeting the Ministry of Health explained to the union its reason for giving the Ministry of Education permission to proceed with such a decision.

President Andall told this newspaper that the Ministry’s rationale was that Grenada is generally safe.

Efforts to contact Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Shawn Charles for an explanation on Thursday, proved futile.   

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