Omicron and the Opening of Schools
The omicron variant of the Corona virus is spreading across the globe like wild fire. However, up to this point we have not heard from the health authorities whether this new and virulent variant has been discovered in SVG. Given what is currently known about Omicron, it is safe to assume that it is already here and we should act accordingly.
My major concern is the anticipated spike in cases and what it might mean for the resumption of school in a face-to-face setting. Online education has been a failure for many despite the sterling efforts made by students, teachers, parents and the authorities. For me, a return to online school is utterly and completely out of the question. Therefore, we must learn to live, work and play with the virus even as Omicron rages.
I listen to the experts. In so doing, I learn a lot. For instance, despite the virulence of variants such as Omicron, the world is much better armed to put up a fight against the pandemic than we were in the early months of its emergence. The public health protocols, the emerging therapeutics and, yes, the vaccines have all put us in a position to effectively combat and defeat Omicron. However, to arrive at this point, it requires global solidarity, national unity and personal responsibility.
As long as we are prepared to do what is required, face-to-face school can and must resume indefinitely. To do so safely and thus minimize outbreaks of Omicron, all concerned must adhere to the following:
1. Regular sanitization of hands and surfaces;
2. Wearing masks in the appropriate settings.
3. Observing social distancing as far as practicable;
4. Conducting regular testing for COVID-19 among all school personnel; and
5. Vaccinating ALL who are eligible including students.
The pandemic forced us to make some serious adjustments to life and work. Some of them made sense, others have turned out to be nonsensical. Online school was nonsensical. Even as Omicron rages, keep our school doors open. Let’s beat the pandemic by following the science.
Dismiss teachers who refuse to vaccinate!
A concerned colleague messaged me with this question, “Persons are saying we will be dismissed if we don’t vaccinate, is this true?” Without hesitation, I responded with these words:
“That is absolutely NOT true. While the Ministry is encouraging teachers to be vaccinated, they are also quick to point out that it is not mandatory. Further, there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
My colleague’s anxiety is just a reflection of the chaos, confusion and concerns engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has become even more intense as the authorities promote vaccination for all eligible groups including teachers. Thanks to the virulence of the anti-vax movement, vaccine hesitance stands as a potentially insurmountable obstacle in the way of getting all teachers vaccinated.
The Ministry of Education is strongly encouraging all teachers to become vaccinated. Thus, they have joined with the Ministry of Health to undertake a series of consultations aimed at educating teachers about the process. Despite these efforts, a significant number of teachers continue to show hesitancy and even express outright rejection of vaccines and the vaccination initiatives on which the authorities have embarked. In the face of such opposition from teachers, how should the Ministry of Education respond?
According to Permanent Secretary Myccle Burke, “The primary concern of the Ministry of Education is for students and teachers to operate in a conducive environment, where all students are able to experience the benefits of quality education.” This is definitely not the case as hoped for through online teaching and learning. There have been significant deficiencies in the provision of “quality education” since the suspension of face to face instruction. Online engagement, despite all of its promises, can be termed as a failure in many respects. Hence, the cries for a “return to school” have reached crescendo levels in some quarters and the authorities are listening.
So, face to face classes are tentatively set to resume on April 12, 2021. And, as the Ministry has pointed out, this will be done with a “focus on health and safety”. Along with the already established COVID-19 protocols, vaccination has been adopted as one of the weapons in the fight against the pandemic. Accordingly, the Ministry of Health is set to “deploy teams to all schools to facilitate the vaccination of teachers”.
The Ministry of Education has since issued a memo which states that: “All teachers are encouraged to vaccinate in an effort to mitigate against the pandemic.” Now, the question is: What should the authorities do about teachers who refuse to vaccinate? Should they be threatened with dismissal? I cannot speak for the authorities. But, let me restate, in part, my response to my anxious colleague:
“…there is nothing in law or applicable regulations which states that failure to vaccinate is among grounds for dismissal. That would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, NOT because I was forced to, but because, I believe in the efficacy of vaccines in general. I suggest that you inform yourself and make your choice accordingly.”
Teachers, don’t procrastinate, vaccinate!
Philbert J A John
March 13, 2021