‘Back to school’ has meant ‘back to normal’, for the most part, in the Cayman Islands since late August, when Chief Medical Officer John Lee announced that COVID-19 had “burned out in Cayman” and removed public health measures, including short-lived requirements on mask-wearing and staggered attendance in local schools.
Apart from a primary student testing ‘weakly’ positive for COVID in mid-October, resulting in a 2-week quarantine for some students and staff, Cayman’s return to in-person learning has gone smoothly. Because of continuing border restrictions and mandatory isolation for travelers, the islands’ COVID cases have been minimal, and there are no indications that the usual school routine will be further disrupted, barring unforeseen developments.
The same cannot be said for many countries that are near Cayman geographically, or with whom Cayman has close ties.
The prospect of lockdowns looms in some places, particularly where spikes in COVID-19 infections are anticipated due to increased travel over the American Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
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Like Cayman, Cuba has seen relatively few COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to official statistics.
Schools across the majority of the country reopened in September, with secondary school students attending classes on alternate days, and other students at home receiving lessons via television.
In Havana, which experienced a concentration of COVID-19 cases, schools did not reopen until early November. Schools remain closed in a handful of other provinces with high COVID-19 numbers.
Overall COVID-19 numbers have also been low in British Virgin Islands.
Private schools, preschools and colleges reopened in BVI in September, along with certain technical and specialised schools.
In mid-October, the BVI Cabinet agreed to a phased reopening of primary and secondary schools, with all schools to be reopened at the beginning of January.
Jamaica has experienced more than twice the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
On 10 Nov., the government initiated a pilot reopening of 17 schools, involving 6,000 students in nine parishes.
As of two weeks ago, education officials were considering how to expand reopenings to other schools.
In the meantime, the government has been securing and distributing tens of thousands of tablets and computers to students who need assistance.
Bermuda has experienced more than 4 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Schools reopened in September, with public health mandates on masks, social distancing, etc.
Currently children and staff from 3 schools and a nursery are quarantining due to possible exposure to COVID-19 positive individuals.
Canada has experienced nearly 10 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Different provinces in Canada are approaching COVID-19 in different ways, as it relates to education. Schools across the country reopened in September.
While cities including Toronto have instituted lockdowns in response to COVID-19 spikes, generally the tendency has been for officials to try to keep schools physically open as much as possible.
Recently in Alberta, however, rapidly increasing COVID-19 infections prompted officials to temporarily shut down in-person classes for secondary school students.
The United States is such a large country, with individual states (or sometimes, smaller political jurisdictions) possessing authority over COVID-19 responses, that it makes sense to break out individual states — for our purposes, ones that have the strongest relationships with the Cayman community.
The State of Texas has experienced more than 20 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Last week, the Texas Education Agency authorised individual schools to suspend on-campus instruction for up to 14 days, “a significant number of the instructional staff at the campus is impacted due to a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak”.
Schools that close their doors must be able to provide virtual learning to students — and also must provide on-campus instruction to students without access to the requisite technology.
The State of Florida has experienced more than 25 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Last week, Florida’s education commissioner announced that students will be allowed to continue virtual learning through the remainder of the school year in spring 2021.
In South Florida, major school districts in Miami and the Florida Keys had no plans to close schools again despite steady increases in COVID-19 infections since schools reopened in early October.
At the university level, however, some institutions including the University of Miami, Florida University and the University of Central Florida are closing campuses until 2021 due to fears of COVID-19 breaks over the holiday season.
An early hotspot in the US for COVID-19, the State of New York has had by far the largest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita among the jurisdictions we have included in this story.
New York has experienced more than 50 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Last week, in response to increases in COVID-19 infections, New York City (which has the largest public school system in the US) closed its public schools and transitioned 300,000 students to virtual learning.
On Wednesday, the mayor of New York said the public schools will reopen on a rolling basis, with a plan to be announced next week.
The UK has experienced more than 25 times the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita than Cayman.
Schools reopened in the fall for in-person instruction, with rules in place for masks, social distancing etc.
Recently, more than half of secondary schools in England, along with 20% of primary schools, reported having 1 or more students self-isolating because of potential exposure to COVID-19 in the school.
The Welsh government has cancelled next summer’s in-person standardised exams. Likewise, The Scottish government has cancelled its National 5 exams and postponed its Higher and Advanced Higher exams.
In England, A-levels and GCSEs have been postponed for several weeks. In Northern Ireland, exams will start a week later in 2021 but will still finish by 30 June.
Recently, the head of school inspection agency Ofsted told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse the pandemic had potentially compromised safeguards for children with special education needs and disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable to abuse.