Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly speaks to pupils of the St Augustine Secondary School during her visit on the first day on the reopening of schools.

Thirty-five thousand students returned to school yesterday, as the Education Ministry opened schools on a phased basis for students in Forms 4, 5 and 6.

But according to TTUTA some students were flouting the health protcols in place to keep them COVID free.

Speaking to Guardian Media at the St Augustine Secondary School, Education Minister, Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly announced that the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination will be held on June 10.

She added that CSEC examinations will commence from June 1.

The Minister said the Caribbean Examination Council -CXC – has sent out its but arrangements are still to be finalised with regards to the format for 2021.

“So we do have a meeting which will involve the Ministers of Education in the Caribbean on the 26th of this month, where the ministers will come together to express their views on the arrangement that has been proposed so far for the 2021 examinations.”

The Minister said a challenge to the phased physical reopening of schools was that some students have grown accustomed to the online environment and there are concerns about safety.

“My daughter goes out today and I do share some of that anxiety. We are in a pandemic and we know what is happening around the world but I would say that the government has done the best it can in these circumstance to ensure the safety of the country. You will know our numbers are pretty low and it did not come just like that it came from the population taking the steps that they needed to. So at this point, we are taking the reasonable steps, we brought out only the students that are completely necessary to come out and we have taken the steps at the school level with adequate sanitization stations, we have put in place the protocol for entry and the classrooms”, Minister Gadsby-Dolly said.

Meanwhile, TTUTA President Antonia Tekah-De Freitas said it was not a smooth reopening yesterday.

She said the national executive along with the district officers had visited schools across T&T where they found some physical premises lacking.

Among the issues cited was the replacement of gas lines, vents and hoods in some school laboratories; and the replacement of dilapidated roofing in several other schools.

The TTUTA head said this would have been part of the pre-existing health and safety works that required urgent attention but may not have been possible due to the small financial allocations received from the Ministry of Education.

Declining to name the schools or even the education districts where this would have occurred, she said, “Principals, once they got the funding they required…rushed out and procured what they had to, to make sure students had supplies and equipment and materials to do their labs and practicals for the School-Based Assessments today.”

In schools where repairs were not effected in time, Tekah-De Freitas said these students would not have been able to complete the scheduled tasks.

The TTUTA president also said that despite the health protocols

the students themselves in some instances were found to be flouting the regulations.

She expressed disappointment.

“Some of the students were still not exercising personal responsibility to follow the mask-wearing and social distancing mandates, so we know that is something they will have to be reminded of on a frequent basis.”

“We hope they will soon fall into line with this shortly.”

Tekah-De Freitas said reports of staff shortages had also been received from some schools, “not because the teachers did not show up or report for assigned duties but because vacancies would have arisen during the last school year and were not yet filled.”

She said an analysis of this current arrangement would have to be done before any discussions could be had relating to a whole-school resumption.

Standard Five students are scheduled to return to classes on April 12.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the next phased opening will be done, “once all goes well with our COVID-19 numbers.”