Thursday 24 September, 2020

Here's what Cayman parents think of the new back-to-school protocols

All parents of school-aged children should have already received communications from their children's schools about the COVID-19 protocols pertaining their children's return to school at the end of August to mid September.

The Ministry of Education has indicated that “When the return to on-site schooling occurs it will take place in two stages to provide time for the Public Health Department and Government to monitor and evaluate the effects that the (staged) return to school has on the increased movement of people and transmission within the community.”

The staggered approach will require that schools open for a first group of grades/ classes two weeks early and then re-open for a second set of grades/ classes two weeks later. The second set of grades/ classes will be required to begin online classes in the interim.

This is in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) "More Risk" return to school guidelines, which is the middle ground between lowest risk (all online) and highest risk (everyone returns at the same time). More risk protocols involve "Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/ across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes)."

Here is an example of how this will work in Cayman, taken from the manual of a local school:

Here are some of the strategies mentioned and the response from parents:

Staggered re-opening, as described above.

"I think all the kids should be going back on previous planned date- end of Aug- no staggering/on line learning- would be better for parents, teachers and kids."

"I am against the staggered start for a variety of reasons: childcare for those families where both parents work, it disadvantages those children starting later and could increase anxiety in those children who started first and have settled into a quiet less busy school, exposing the children to one another from day 1 will reduce the chance of having to close the school 2-4 weeks after opening because a child in stage 2 brought the virus in. This would be so disruptive to everyone to have to return to homeschooling after starting back in to a ‘normal’ routine."

"The staggering is not a huge issue for us, but I do wish that the schools would offer the opportunity to continue homeschooling (yes, I am aware that it is harder for the teachers to do both simultaneously) since it would give a viable option to families with health concerns."

"Everyone should go back to school together...#$%# the staggered start. (Although New Zealand has depressed me)"

Bubbles: One method of physical separation involves use of “bubbles,” or small groups. Students in Denmark are organized in groups of 12, known as “protective bubbles.” These groups eat lunch separately and have their own playground areas. Bubbles have allowed school and health officials to quickly isolate groups of students who may have been exposed without disrupting the entire school. The CDC points to bubbles as a potential strategy for U.S. schools.

No comments from parents.

Mask wearing.

"Masks if to be worn should be worn to and from school and to walk between classes but not used in class. We have a clear month before the borders open and at that time mask situation may need to change."

"Masks should only be worn when moving between classes and to and from school. I do not feel children need to wear masks while in class or sitting at their individual desks." 

"Agreed on not requiring masks all day, but we will have new and returning families joining us." 

"I don’t think they are going to do well with wearing masks all day, especially as the cloth ones can feel quite thick and stuffy. I think masks should be worn while moving between classes and if they is any room to spread the desks out, then that can be done too." 

"Am okay with masks whle moving around but not while seated at desks or outdoors moving around."

With regards to the 'new norm'.

"We need to support our kids though this with minimum fear levels acknowledging what a fortunate position we are in. We do that best, in my opinion, by opening without a staggered start and with minimal mask wearing.. fun, trust and learning should go hand in hand. It would be different if we still had a huge outbreak of the virus and yes I know New Zealand has a new outbreak ..this will happen and we need to learn to react quickly if it does and use appropriate precautions to the threat level rather than live in fear."

"Let's get the children back together as soon as possible for learning, fun, socialising and an opportunity for them to talk to each other, as peers, about their experience of the pandemic thus far and their fears, expectations of what the future holds in terms of the Virus. Friendships need to be forged, reestablished and perhaps redefined in this our ‘new norm’."  

"These few weeks/months of children being in school together will be vital to their mental health and resilience levels in the event we have to go back into lock down/homeschooling. Let’s make the most of being COVID-free and get children back together as soon as possible."

"My son misses his friends and while he’s content to be on Fortnite, I know he’ll happy to return to school."

A thoughtful parent who thought about what this must be like for schools and parents...

"I totally get that people are apprehensive about masks and protocols etc. but I have empathy for the teachers and the school trying to navigate these uncharted waters.  My thought is let's just get back to school now with whatever the school feels is necessary.  The school is aligned with parents and I don't think they are going to make things more difficult for themselves if they can help it.  They are much more impacted by the restrictions day to day then we are as parents.  I think it will quickly evolve but we just need to start somewhere.  I hope that parents are being appreciative and supportive of the schools as we really need them as our allies while we navigate this.  They were no more prepared for this than any of us were and as parents we only see what works best for our kids and we aren't as privy to the various needs of children and the school has to do what's best for all... there is no perfect solution. As time goes on, maybe I will feel strongly about certain parts of it but I try to give my feedback to the school directly in a constructive way for them to incorporate my experience as a parent into their decision making process and in general I try to avoid any negativity when speaking to (or around) my kids or on social media as I think that doesn't necesarily help the situation.  The most important thing for me right now is for the kids to get back to school and for the teachers to feel supported."

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