Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd yesterday announced that 13 schools across Abaco and Grand Bahama will reopen tomorrow, after Hurricane Dorian ripped through parts of both islands last month.
These schools include Freeport Primary School, Walter Parker Primary School, Bartlett Hill Primary School, Lewis Yard Primary School, Martin Town Primary School, Holmes Rock Primary School, West End Primary School, Jack Hayward Junior High School, Jack Hayward Senior High School, Sister Mary Patricia Junior High School, St. George’s Senior High School, Eight Mile Rock Secondary School, and The Beacon School.
The minister said that all school administrators, support staff and teachers are expected to return officially on Wednesday, October 16, while students will return on Thursday, October 17.
Lloyd added that students are receiving instruction from teachers and volunteers in the public schools in Crossing Rocks, Cherokee Sound, Sandy Point, Moore’s Island, Fox Town and Green Turtle Cay.
Teachers and students living in Cooper’s Town, Abaco, he said, will meet at a site which will be determined sometime next week.
The minister added that the road to reopening schools in Grand Bahama was “littered with obstacles”.
“First, public utilities were compromised significantly. Amidst the destruction, there was no electricity, communication works were fragile, and the water supply was contaminated,” he said.
“This included, but was not limited to, a massive clean-up of the affected schools, which involved tearing out damaged walls and ceilings, carting away debris and affecting extensive mold remediation work.”
However, he indicated that public utilities, for the most part, have been restored to “acceptable levels”.
Staff and students in East Grand Bahama have been reassigned to schools in the Freeport area, according to the minister.
Works continue at the Hugh Campbell Primary School, Genesis Academy, Maurice Moore Primary School, and the Haven PACE program.
Lloyd said that the ministry expects Hugh Campbell Primary School and Maurice Moore Primary School to be ready to reopen on Monday, October 21.
“I wish to reiterate that every school that we have scheduled for reopening is safe for occupancy,” he said.
“I have been informed that donors have ensured all of our schools will be adequately supplied with bottled water, so that all of our students will have access to drinking water.
“Please note that some repair works will continue on various campuses. However, these necessary works will not interfere with nor compromise the health and safety of anyone, nor will they in any way negatively impact daily operations.”
The Ministry of Education, he said, will also dispatch mental health professionals to support the mental and emotional wellbeing of students and staff on those islands.
He added that a team of psychologists and counsellors led by the ministry’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and Guidance and Counseling Unit will visit Grand Bahama this week to conduct extensive and ongoing therapeutic sessions with various groups.
Asked if the late start will result in an extension of the school year, Director of Education Marcellus Taylor said that the ministry has faced the challenges.
He said that national exams and university application deadlines have affected the timeline.
“We want to use a common sense approach to all of this. So, we are here in New Providence. We are not affected by it to that extent. So, for us it would be engaging the local Grand Bahamian education sector to try to understand what are the things that we can do to maximize the instructional time,” he said.
“So, we don’t know if it will involve the extension of the school year at this point. I’m not really confident if that would be a strategy that people are going to opt for. It may involve some Saturday [classes] and extended school days, but we’ll work with our colleagues in Grand Bahama to come up with a plan.”
The director added that the ministry is using the virtual school program to address the staffing issue in rural areas on the island.
He added that the program has also become a handy mechanism for the ministry to support hurricane survivors.
“So, Moore’s Island school, for instance, where 50 more persons than would [have] ordinarily gone to that school are now on that island…We will utilize that mechanism to assist with offering subjects at the secondary school level,” he said.
“We also have students in Cherokee Sound, which is typically a primary school, the secondary school students who are there will benefit from that. We will do a similar thing in Fox Town, a similar thing in Cooper’s Town, and a similar thing in Sandy Point.”
He added that these schools are using a generator to power their devices.
Dorian left a total 10,000 students displaced on both islands.
Last month Lloyd said no child in The Bahamas should be at risk of dropping out of school because of the monster category five storm.
He added that the ministry’s “paramount concern” is to make sure all students are back to school as soon as possible.