6 Dec. 2020
Weekly Current (archived version)
Public schools get 2 extra weeks off for Christmas. Ministry won’t release consultants report on $170 million John Gray project. Bodden Town Primary Hall goes out for bid. Brac student wins national spelling bee. And more news!
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education news in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
On Friday, the Ministry of Education confirmed what was first a rumour, then a proposal, and then a plan: Government schools will have their Christmas holidays extended by 2 weeks, with schools now opening on 18 Jan. rather than 4 Jan.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the extension would “allow staff from government schools to spend some well-needed time with their families locally and overseas”, taking into consideration the mandatory 2-week quarantine period required for incoming travellers.
According to government, 180 teachers (22% of staff) had said they wanted to travel during the holiday break.
Like we saw during the COVID-19 lockdown, closing public schools for another 2 weeks will impact workplaces across the country, as the parents of about 8,200 students will have to stay home with their children (possibly working from home or arranging for leave) or make other childcare arrangements on relatively short notice.
On the part of the public sector, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said civil servants will have options for remote work and/or flex hours.
For context, nearly 100% of public school students are Caymanian, and about 75% of the civil service is Caymanian (as of December 2019). With nearly 6,500 employees (including 4,700 Caymanians), the public sector is the single-largest employer in the country.
By comparison, about 40% of employees in the private sector are Caymanian. In all, of Caymanians who are employed — about 25% work for the public service.
In other words, it seems reasonable to conclude that a large proportion of public school students have 1 or more parents in the public service, which is willing to make accommodations during the extended holiday.
In regard to teachers actually using the extra 2 weeks to travel (particularly expatriates making long journeys to COVID-heavy countries such as the US and UK), those trips would have to take place between 18 Dec. (when schools close for Christmas) and 4 Jan. (allowing them 2 weeks to quarantine before school resumes).
Considerations include: the availability of flights, risk of exposure to COVID, the cost of quarantining, and the reality of making a trip where, depending on rules in the destination jurisdiction, the ‘real’ vacation days could be bookended by days or weeks spent in quarantine, both at the destination and upon return to Cayman. (Currently there is no requirement to self-isolate when travelling to the UK from Cayman. Rules vary by state in the US.)
In its press release announcing the extended holiday, the Ministry left it open to individual private schools to adjust their schedules or keep them the same. We’re keeping an eye out, but so far we haven’t seen announcements from any of the larger private schools indicating they would join the public schools and extend their Christmas breaks as well.
To balance out the extra days off for Christmas, and the 3 school days lost to passing hurricanes this fall, authorities adjusted the remainder of the school schedule as follows:
- Week of Ash Wednesday (15-19 Feb.) — Formerly the entire week was off; now only Ash Wednesday is a holiday (17 Feb.)
- March 26 — Formerly a professional development day, now a regular school day
- Easter Break (2-9 April) — Formerly the entire week was off; now the holiday runs from Good Friday, 2 April, through Wednesday, 7 April; with students attending school Thursday and Friday, 8 and 9 April
- End of School Year — Formerly the last day of school was 30 June; now the last day of school is 9 July, with 5 July being the Constitution Day public holiday.
Moving on, back in October when the subject of the new John Gray High School construction project came up during the Finance Committee of the Legislative Assembly (which just this week was renamed the Cayman Islands Parliament), the Current sent an email to the Ministry of Education asking for a copy of a consultant’s report prepared by KPMG, that purportedly contains an evaluation of the various design options for the new John Gray, which option represents the best ‘value for money’ for the government, and why.
The ‘Outline Business Case’ report had been approved by Cabinet about 2 years ago to date, and at the time government said the report would be posted online starting 19 Nov. 2018. (We asked the Ministry for the report after failing to find it online.)
We received a response from a Ministry spokesperson last Tuesday stating, “The Outline Business Case for the New John Gray Project is not yet a public document and it is not in the public interest to release it at this time.”
Should the Outline Business Case be available for public view, as promised in 2018? Consider the following:
- The report was prepared for government by a private consultant and approved more than 2 years ago by Cabinet.
- The report has been a foundational working document for the new John Gray project.
- With an estimated total price tag of $170 million, the new John Gray would be the single-largest public sector capital project in the history of the Cayman Islands.
- By comparison the currently-shelved cruise port project was estimated to cost about $200 million, and the cost of the ongoing airport redevelopment project is at about $100 million and counting.
- For the cruise port and the airport, the relevant consulting firm (PwC) prepared public versions of the original Outline Business Cases, removing commercially sensitive information, and those ‘public OBCs’ were then released to the public.
In response to the Ministry’s response, we sent a few questions. We’re waiting to hear back.
Over in Bodden Town, more details are emerging about the new hall for Theoline L. McCoy Primary School. The bidding process has begun for construction of the 12,633-square-foot building, with the project to begin in February 2021 and be completed by April 2022. (Read our story here.)
Congratulations to Layman E. Scott Sr. High School student Tabitha Giscombe, who secured victory in the 37th annual Lion’s Club of Grand Cayman Secondary Spelling Bee. The runner up is Suwayne Young-Watson, also from Layman Scott. (Read our story here.)
More news from the Current:
- Miss Teen Cayman Islands Jada Bodden received a $56,000 scholarship from the Ministry of Education, covering 2 years of local university study and 2 years overseas.
- The government launched a campaign “to promote lifelong learning for Caymanians to support their employment goals”.
- Six senior public servants were awarded Fellowship status of the Institute of Leadership and Management.
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- The Guardian (UK): ‘I only see someone if I do my laundry’: students stuck on campus for a Covid Christmas
- The Guardian (UK): Music education in UK schools devastated by pandemic, survey finds
- Virgin Islands Daily News: UVI puts spring 2021 athletics season on hold due to rising COVID-19 numbers in U.S.
- Trinidad Express: BACK TO SCHOOL
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): East End middle school to quarantine for 14 days
- Cayman Compass ($): UCCI student’s dream is kept alive
- The Guardian (UK): Staggered return planned for university students after Christmas
- The Guardian (UK): Gavin Williamson vows A-levels and GCSEs will not be cancelled in England
- Jamaica Gleaner: Education crisis… Ministry assessment shows worrying learning loss
- Jamaica Observer: Learning loss
- Jamaica Gleaner: Education Ministry says 800 students so far positive for COVID
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Minister: new lockdown ‘extremely unlikely’ but not out of the question
- Miami Herald ($): UM, FIU to hold virtual fall graduations amid COVID. MDC sticks with outdoors ceremonies
- Caymanian Times: Book helps Inclusion charity
- Caymanian Times: Cayman Brac students win Spelling Bee
The Week Ahead
- An interview with the leaders of Little Trotters Farm and Nursery School
- New school inspection reports expected from the Office of Education Standards