12 Sept. 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
Schools roll out initial responses to COVID-19 cases in the community. Free public schools meals to cost $16 million per year. Red Bay Primary School *still* under investigation. LIFE celebrates International Literacy Day.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Schools are emphasising existing health procedures and taking steps to limit crowds of students indoors, following last week’s confirmation of several positive COVID-19 cases in the Cayman Islands community.
So far, no students or school staff have tested positive for the virus. Two Clifton Hunter High School students were identified as possibly being exposed to COVID, and they were removed from school Thursday before being cleared by negative tests.
The situation could change rapidly as health officials continue to investigate the extent of COVID community transmission; however, as of Sunday, schools’ responses largely consisted of reassuring parents that they already have enhanced health procedures in place — such as frequent surface cleaning, handwashing stations and mandatory mask-wearing on school buses — and suggesting that students have the option to wear masks. Some schools are actively taking social distancing measures, such as cancelling assemblies or changing up arrangements for lunch.
As far as the Current is aware, the government has not issued uniform guidance for COVID to schools in anticipation of the planned border reopening in October.
Following Cayman’s hard lockdown last spring and summer, and continued closure of the border with strict quarantine requirements, Cayman had not previously had a confirmed case of community transmission of COVID since July 2020. Unlike other countries in the region and around the world, Cayman schools have had uninterrupted in-person learning over the past year, without having to implement school closures, targeted quarantines or virtual learning strategies.
In other locations where COVID has become endemic, schools’ responses have included: mandatory masks, regular testing, social distancing, targeted classroom quarantines, hybrid physical-virtual learning, or even total school closures and 100% online classes.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch (much less breakfast and snack). The anticipated cost for government to feed all public school students is $16 million per year, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly revealed during the parliamentary Finance Committee.
Under the new programme, all public school students will be provided with 3 free meals per day — breakfast, snack and lunch. In order to pay for the estimated cost for this fall semester, covering primary schools and the specialised Lighthouse School, the Ministry requested a supplemental budget appropriation of $3.1 million.
The programme will be expanded to secondary schools as part of the new 2-year budget beginning in January 2022.
The annual cost for meals in primary schools will be $7.7 million, for secondary schools will be $7.9 million and for the Lighthouse School will be $366,300.
Another data point of interest: During the meeting, O’Connor-Connolly said this year’s government school enrolment is approximately 5,200 students.
That is an 11% increase compared to last year and would reverse 9 years of declines in public school enrolment, which previously peaked at 4,956 students in 2012.
***Editor’s Note: We’ve just submitted an FOI request to government asking for current enrolment numbers in all public and private schools, as well as the number of homeschooling students. … Stay tuned …***
Using the total cost of the programme, the number of students, and the number of teaching days in a school year, we calculated the average cost of the school meals programme as follows:
- Per student, per year: $3,100
- Per student, per day: $16.60
- Per student, per meal: $5.50.
For context, the non-profit Feed our Future budgets around $6 per day for primary school students and $8 per day for secondary school students for its long-running school meals programme, which provides lunch and a snack or drink each day.
Red Bay Primary School opened the new school year with an ongoing police investigation and an acting principal.
It’s been 4 months since a joint task force from police and the Department of Children and Family Services began looking into allegations of misconduct toward students by Red Bay Primary staff. At the time, staff reported to be involved were “relocated from schools until the investigation is completed”.
The Ministry of Education confirmed last week that the investigation continues and Red Bay’s acting principal is Ryan Dale, in place of longtime principal Vickie Frederick.
***Editor’s Note: We’ll continue keeping an eye on the situation until it is resolved.***
In this week’s episode of EdBeat, Patrick Brendel of the Current and April Cummings of Cayman Life TV talk about all of the above, and some other stuff.
LIFE Executive Director Juliet Austin celebrated the power of reading and literacy, not only as an escape mechanism but as a tool for social change, during the nonprofit’s celebration of International Literacy Day at Government House last Wednesday.
Current journalist Kayla Young reports on LIFE’s accomplishments and its new ‘Thrive by Five’ programme to bring libraries, workshops and learning opportunities to local preschools.
***Editor’s Note: While we’re on this topic, we’re quite pleased to be able to say that the Current, LIFE, and other partners and sponsors are moving quickly to finalise the details of the first ‘Current Event’, a regular series of community discussions on education issues. We’ve penciled in a date of 29 Sept. Once the plans are confirmed, we’ll be sending out invitations. Supporters of the Current will get first dibs on all opportunities to attend our events. There’s still time to become an Individual Supporter of the Current by making a donation in any amount.***
More from the Current
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.)
- Cayman Compass ($): Free public school meal programme launched
- Cayman Compass ($): Education Ministry adds funds to scholarship programme
- Cayman News Service: Marketing expert to lead Education Council
- The Guardian (UK): The Guardian University Guide 2022 – the rankings
- The Guardian (UK): Editorial | Ministers failing children
- Jamaica Observer: Worsening social inequities in education now more extreme
- Miami Herald ($): The U.S. Education Department is investigating Florida over school mask mandate ban
- The BVI Beacon: Students head back to class
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Survey shows opposition to parish primary plan
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Concern over lack of detail over funding
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Concerns raised over special needs students
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Possible uses for buildings
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Submissions for and against closure plan
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools Report: Submissions to save primaries set to close
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): At home schooling after Covid-19 surge
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Campaigners vow to ‘press on’ to save historic school
The Week Ahead
- Concerns about racial divisions in the Cayman Islands school system
- EdBeat: Episode 13