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A group of people leave the Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, after receiving the COVID-19 jabs on Monday.

Anna-Lisa Paul

With more than 14,000 teachers employed across all levels of the education system in T&T, only 2,500 of them have been recommended to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

This includes principals, vice-principals and teachers in Forms Four to Six from the secondary school system, all of whom are currently attending classes and interacting with students during face-to-face sessions.

The names of the personnel were submitted to the Ministry of Health by the Ministry of Education.

However, that number is expected to increase, as Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said yesterday the ministry collecting and sending names based on a further request.

Pressed to say if special consideration will be afforded to the cohort of teachers scheduled to be out for the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on June 10 – the minister said, this information had not yet been requested by the Health Ministry.

However, she assured, “The ones that are out now are being considered first.”

Although teachers were previously labelled as essential staff, there have been complaints of people being turned away from health centres as they tried to access the vaccine.

There are claims by some teachers that no instructions were given for them to be accommodated, while some said they were told that they do not meet the criteria of being over 60 years old or having a non-communicable disease (NCD).

On Monday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed that they were awaiting a list from the Education Ministry and as soon as it was received, due consideration would be paid to it.

Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said while the Health Ministry had reached out to them earlier in the year for this information, they were unable to collect the data requested due to staff constraints.

Despite this, she said, “We did indicate we would encourage as many teachers who were desirous of receiving that vaccine to avail themselves of the opportunity…so our expectation is that when phase two was started, teachers at any level would be able to access the vaccine, so I am not sure at this point how we have arrived at the 2,000-plus number of teachers to be vaccinated.”

She too confirmed that some teachers had been turned down after contacting health centres to secure vaccine appointments.

Calling for clarification in this area now, the TTUTA head questioned, “Are teachers essential now, as we were deemed so from months ago? Or are we only looking at secondary school teachers who are coming out to schools in the first instance?”

She also sought answers regarding the SEA teachers.

“What will happen to the SEA teachers who are going to supervise whenever the exam is done?”

Tekah-De Freitas urged both ministries to clear up this confusion, as she said it could serve as a deterrent to teachers.

The National Council of the Parent-Teacher Association (NCPTA) and the National Primary Schools Principals Association (NAPSPA) also voiced concerns on Monday about how the SEA exam would be administered on June 10.

NCPTA PRO Shamila Raheem and NAPSPA president Carlene Hayes said it was worrisome, as the nation’s COVID-19 cases continued to spike.

“We can’t send out 20,000 plus children with teachers, administrators, principals and SEA supervisors to do this exam,” Raheem said.

Standard Five students due to write the exam next month were hoping to return to the physical classroom on April 12 when school reopened, but as the cases spiked this was denied and instead all primary school students have been mandated to continue with online schooling.