Teachers’ Union lays down conditions for reopening of schools

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 July 2021, 21:25 by Denis Chabrol

General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union, Coretta Mc Donald addressing the University of Guyana- sponsored ‘Turkeyen-Tain Talks’ whose topic was “Education as Freedom: Education Reform and Socio-Economic Development in Guyana”.

The General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), Coretta Mc Donald on Wednesday listed a number of conditions under which the union would support plans by the Ministry of Education to reopen school.

Speaking with News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM, she said the Education Ministry would first have to consult with the union and during those talks the union intends to press demands for a number of arrangements and supplies to be put in place. “The GTU’s position is that whenever the Ministry of Education decides that they are going to reopen schools, they better understand that all the systems will have to be in place,” said Ms. Mc Donald.

The GTU official stressed the importance of providing an adequate Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) environment for the teachers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the issues, Ms. Mc Donald said that must be discussed is whether schools would be fully or partly reopened, a blended approach, continued closure of  nursery schools or in-person classes for selected grades of primary and secondary schools.

According to Ms. Mc Donald, the union has already decided to insist on social distancing in classrooms, sufficient face masks and hand sanitisers for teachers and students, sufficient cleaners to sanitise classrooms every 35 minutes, and  special buses for students. “Unless we have the safety practices in place, we will continue to say to our members, ‘stay away, don’t go into schools and put yourself in danger’ and we have a right to say that,”  said Ms. Mc Donald who is also a parliamentarian for the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).

The GTU General Secretary said since August 2020, nine teachers have died from COVID-19 and many others have been infected by the virus. Up to Wednesday, July 14, 2020, more than 500 Guyanese have succumbed to the disease since the outbreak in March, 2020.

The Ministry of Education has already hinged the reopening of schools in Guyana to the rate of vaccination by Guyanese.

Several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have already decided to reopen schools to in-person classes. Belize has gone as far as listing teachers among frontline workers who must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing or being told to stay home and considered absent from work. Two unions representing teachers and principals in Trinidad and Tobago are in talks with the Ministry of Education about a draft proposal for the reopening of schools from September.

University of the West Indies Law Professor Rosemarie Belle Antoine has said that compulsory vaccination would not violate any laws or the constitutions of Caribbean countries.