Mixed views from parents about the new hybrid system adopted by the Ministry of Education, which will go into effect on February 8, at the start of phased reopening of schools.

Guardian Media spoke with some parent-support-groups as well as parents. While some support the move, others believe the decision was made without the much-needed consultation of parents, whom they say are the ones “facing the music.”

Although the phased re-opening will only start with secondary school students of forms four to six followed by primary school students of only standard five to return to physical classes on April 12, in preparation for the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam, some also shared concerns about the regimental guidelines and protocols listed on Tuesday by Minister of Education, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly at a news conference.

They believe not only are all students not ready, but such an environment can also contribute to students developing further mental stress.

Responding to Guardian Media’s question about such stakeholders’ thoughts on the hybrid system, PTA president of Carapichaima West Secondary School, Michelle Omar, said the school’s students were not ready.

She noted the Minister never did any open consultation with parents on their thoughts and many issues were never covered.

“All they are concerned is (sic) students need to do exams and not their health and wellness,” lamented Omar.

Omar, a member of the online T&T Secondary Schools’ Parent Support Group, said the secondary school was in no way ready to be opened. She claimed she had written on several occasions to Minister Gadsby-Dolly on the condition of the school and its health and safety issues, but to date have not had one reply.

She said she was certain parents of the Carapichaima West Secondary School were not ready for their children to return to physical classes.

When contacted on Omar’s claim, Gadsby-Dolly responded via WhatsApp, confirming she did receive letters on various issues from the secondary school’s PTA president, to which she has responded. But stated requests for infrastructural repair of a school must be sent directly to the Ministry of Education through the school’s principal, via the official online system, and such requests would be brought forward for attention.

A parent, also a co-member of the support group who experienced reopening of schools last year for SEA students, said she was not comfortable sending her children back out to school with the COVID-19 virus still around.

She is also displeased with the guidelines set for children upon their return to physical classes.

“I am not comfortable having my kids be policed as if they are in jail, to raise their hand and wait their turn to use the washroom and eat their lunches, all because the school cannot afford to have them interacting with each other. Then to have them seated for the entire school time while they crave to have social interaction with their classmates that sit six feet away. This is emotional and mental stress and strain on them,” the parent opined.

But Giselle Russell-Clarke, founder of the online support group—SEA the peace-filled approach, told Guardian Media, she endorsed the Ministry’s move.

Speaking on the feedback parents in the group would have expressed about virtual learning, Russell-Clarke said several found children who were performing well before the pandemic had fallen back considerably in their work. She said they believe this occurred, as children were not well supervised in the instances where parents had to work.

In another online SEA support group founded by Rachiel Ramsamooj, she stated there were mixed feelings amongst parents.

Ramsamooj, who has been very outspoken on the pros and cons of the online learning system, said some parents were mostly supportive of the Ministry’s move particularly for the pre-exam subjects that were more difficult to be done remotely.

She added they also support the opportunity children will have to for some form of interaction with their friends and teachers. But she said there were those with children considered to be “high risk” who have expressed health concerns despite the protocols outlined.

“Parents of standard five students are a bit more hesitant as these are younger children who are more likely to spread the virus. The older children—forms four to six may be able to observe the protocols better and are less likely to spread the virus,” Ramsamooj said.