The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) has stated that, by majority vote, teachers have decided not to return to the physical classrooms today as instructed by the Ministry of Education.

The union made the announcement at a press conference held at its Mc Kie’s Hill headquarters yesterday.

The press conference followed a virtual emergency general meeting held on Sunday 14th March following a call by the Ministry of Education (MOE), days prior, for teachers to return to the classrooms today for what was said to be professional development activities and administering of the Covid-19 vaccine.

In a letter dated March 11, 2021 and sent to all heads of educational institutions, the Ministry of Education stated that “schools are scheduled conditionally to be opened on April 12th, 2021, but all teachers are to report to their respective schools from March 17-19 from 9.00 a.m to 3 p.m.”

The MOE said the primary concern was“for students and teachers to operate in a conducive environment, where all students are able to experience the benefits of quality education.”

The ministry said that the period March 17-19 would be used for “professional development purposes and consultation on the evolving protocols for the anticipated school term with focus on, among other things: assessment of students’ online engagement; academic Recovery Programme where schools are expected to devise plans that focus on recovering students’ learning loss, particularly the students who were not engaged online; reviewing the achievements of the online learning and its sustainability; and revisiting the health and safety protocols.

The MOE also said that with focus on health and safety amid the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and the Environment had accordingly agreed to deploy teams to all schools “to facilitate the vaccination of teachers during the professional development period.”

“All teachers are encouraged to vaccinate in an effort to mitigate against the pandemic,” the MOE said.

The St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union in its press statement said that at last Sunday’s emergency general meeting, there was “a candid conversation and voicing serious concerns about safety and security, and the MOE’s inability to conduct proper dialogue with stakeholders. In the end, through majority vote, it was decided that: (1) in principle, the members of the Union were not in opposition to the MOE holding professional development activities, however, members will not physically attend the Professional Development activities scheduled for this week; (2) as the school term is about to come to an end, the three-day period (March 17-19) should be used to finish the topics currently being taught in the virtual classes; (3) should the MOE insist on conducting the professional development activities, such activities ought to be conducted virtually either during the last week of the current school term, or the first week of the Easter break; and (4) should the MOE reject the first two points and insist that Professional Development activity be conducted face to face then “all Covid-19 Protocols must be put in place including social distancing and adequate sanitization stations.”

The SVGTUtold the media that during the emergency general meeting members also expressed concerns about the reopening date of schools “in the context of a lack of effective planning and effective policies to support a safe return to school for students and teachers.”

The SVGTU, in its press statement, said: “Our members, therefore, demand that adequate safety mechanisms must be put into place prior to the reopening of schools. Further, our members demand a respect for the constitutional and human rights of ALL members in regard to vaccination. We request that unbiased information and education about the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be provided so that ALL members can make proper informed decision whether consenting to or refusing to take the vaccine that is currently available.”

The SVGTU said its members were strongly urging the MOE to “engage in dialogue with the Union and other stakeholders before making ad hoc decisions that carry serious implications for health and safety of students and teachers.”

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