A pupil waits to wash his hands as a schoolmate does the same process at the St Dominic Savio Barataria RC School yesterday, where SEA students returned to school to prepare for their August 20 exam.

The T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) is still hoping for a postponement of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam on July 1 because of high COVID-19 figures.

In an attempt to reassure teachers, especially those who are yet to receive their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas has challenged Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram to come out and say if it is safe and acceptable for this cohort of people to be out and about in public.

“Having persons vaccinated with the first dose and going out to supervise is a concern in terms of their level of immunity, and if there are children who are asymptomatic and coming in…it is a major health and safety concern,” she said yesterday.

Referring to statistics from June to mid-August 2020 when the last SEA exam was held, Tekah-De Freitas pointed out, “The number of active cases in T&T was just under 700 then, but at that time, Cabinet took a decision in the interest of the students to postpone the exam until August.

“Now this year, it is almost 11 times that at 7,800 active cases as at yesterday (Wednesday) and you are going ahead with the examination.”

She said the announcement by education officials on Tuesday that pre-entry screening protocols were in place had been a shock for all school principals.

“Who is going to do the screening? That has not been clearly outlined. Is it the testers or the school administrators that are expected to do this screening? What plans are in place in case the weather changes while the screening is taking place, since some schools do not have sheltered areas at their entry points?

“Our position is that if the exam has to go on and the ministry insists on it, that is their prerogative. At the end of the day, we are still concerned about the health and safety and well-being of our education professionals and the students who have been at home for the past two years.”

She added, “You are now telling them to come to an exam with a mask on and sit for long periods of time. There are children who have been granted concessions because of medical issues.”

Reinforcing TTUTA’s call for a postponement, Tekah-De Freitas said, “We believe the CMO and the Ministry of Health should have been making a public pronouncement on the state of public health safety and that it would be safe for students and educators to go out for the SEA.

“We have not heard that and therefore we are not convinced that it is properly safe for persons to be out at this point in time for any examination. We would really be heartened if the CMO would come out and say now is a safe time for persons to be doing examinations, administering and participating in examinations.”

National Primary Schools Principals Association (NAPSPA) president Carlene Hayes said like TTUTA, they too had not been informed of the pre-entry screening protocols, as there seemed to be a “communication glitch.”

She appealed to parents and guardians to, “limit the exposure of their children in this coming week to ensure they do not contract the COVID-19 virus.”

Hayes advised, “If your child is sick on the morning of the exam, was exposed to a COVID-positive case, or if the entire family is supposed to be in quanrantine… they should make the ethical decision to not send their child to school on the day of the exam.”

Hayes said a make-up exam will be administered on July 21 for those who miss the July 1 exam.

“We do not want a situation of a child coming and infecting their classmates and examiners.”