BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 24, 2021– After a year during which Belize’s students were taught almost entirely through online schooling platforms, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology (MoECST) has called for the phased re-opening of schools in less than three weeks, and Cabinet has given the plans for an April reopening the green light. The news of the recommencing of schools became public on Wednesday after a memorandum was issued to the general managers of all pre-primary and primary schools as well as the chairpersons of all secondary schools, ITVET coordinators, district education managers, and the president of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU).
Following the issuance of the memorandum, the Minister of Education, Hon. Francis Fonseca, provided a more detailed explanation of how the plan is set to take effect. The return of classes is expected to be done in two phases, the first of which begins on April 12, 2021, with the second taking place on May 10, 2021. The Education Ministry stressed in its outline of the process that the opening of schools in April is optional; however, all schools will be required to open in the upcoming academic school year.
Furthermore, the Ministry emphasized that schools wishing to reopen must be certified as safe by the Ministry first. The head of the schools will be required to submit an application, after which they will be visited by Ministry of Education officials, who will determine whether the school is safe for reopening. If deemed safe, the schools will be certified and will be permitted to open their doors to students on the aforementioned dates. The Ministry has acknowledged the concerns of all students, teachers, administrators, and parents who might be viewing the reopening with some apprehension and has vowed to ensure that schools reopen in a “safe and responsible manner.”
Schools which are certified as safe will be tasked with notifying parents and students of their respective reopening dates and what is expected of all parties involved when that date arrives. Notably, the Ministry of Education, in its explanation of the reopening process, has said that students will not be required to wear uniforms or a particular style of shoes to attend classes. Schools must also be mindful that students may be returning without all the necessary materials such as textbooks and must be considerate of the financial challenges being faced by the families of the students, the Ministry has said.
Minister Francis Fonseca spoke with members of the media following the announcement of the reopening of schools next month. As previously reported, schools were initially scheduled to reopen in August of 2021, since the early phases of teacher vaccinations have only just begun. When asked about the decision to start reopening schools as early as within the next two and a half weeks, these were his remarks:
“I think, as you can appreciate, what we are saying is that it is a phased reopening. We believe we have to make a start. As I think you know, we’ve had a COVID-19 education task force that has been working for several months now. That task force is comprised of all the key stakeholders in education, including the teachers union. The president sits on that task force. So that task force has been doing its work preparing for the opening of schools for face-to-face instruction.”
Fonseca went on to explain, “The hold-up has always been, of course, the public health concerns, so finally, like last week, the Ministry of Health, who also has representation on that task force, gave the Ministry of Education the go-ahead to proceed with preparing that plan for the Cabinet, and that’s what we did. So, it’s a phased approach, and as we outlined very carefully in the memorandum that we shared, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s a very flexible approach, but we really really do believe, and this is the feeling of the entire Cabinet, that we need to get started on the process.”
The Minister also shared that several schools have submitted their plans for reopening to the Ministry of Education, pending approval. He also stated that the rolling out of vaccines for teachers is expected to be completed in the upcoming months, which will further serve to complement the phased approach of their reopening strategy. Regarding the sentiments of the teachers, roughly 55% of teachers participated in a survey issued by the Education Ministry, and while there were mixed responses, the majority of those responses were in favor of the phased-in reopening approach, according to Fonseca.
Of note, teachers are scheduled to be vaccinated as a part of Phase 2 of our National Vaccination Plan. During an interview preceding the rollout of the first vaccines in Belize, Prime Minister Briceño shared that his Cabinet would look at prioritizing the immunization of teachers in order to fast-track the reopening of schools.