7 Nov. 2021
Weekly Current (archived version)
Principals assess Week One of the new COVID-19 response strategy for local schools. Cayman International School principal appears on EdBeat. Honouring Paul Robinson, the director of the Cayman Islands Public Library System. Vaccines on the horizon for younger students.
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
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Week In Review
One week into the government’s new strategy for COVID-19 in local schools, education and health officials are racing to keep up with demand for ‘quick-response’ testing kits amid a cascade of cases among students and staff.
The Cayman Islands government’s new policy allows people who are ‘primary contacts’ of a COVID-positive individual to continue going to school or work, as long as they test negative on lateral flow tests (LFTs) each day, for 10 consecutive days.
The 10-day ‘surveillance period’ replaces the previously mandatory ‘isolation period’ and negative PCR test result.
We think it’s important to note that when a student tests positive for COVID, only their classmates (and teacher) and family will enter the 10-day testing period. So, for example, the parents and siblings of a classmate of a COVID-positive student will not also have to do the 10 days of testing.
Additionally, the government is creating a voluntary ‘screening programme’ where schools test students and staff two times per week in order to proactively detect COVID cases before they spread.
Private school leaders expressed gratitude to the government for providing LFTs free-of-charge to schools and said the new testing policy has had an immediate positive impact on maintaining the in-person learning environments.
They said the supply of LFTs has been very tight. There have been just enough test kits to enable the 10-day surveillance programme, but not enough to start the screening programme. They were hopeful that fresh supplies of LFTs would be arriving on the island soon.
Cayman Prep and High School Director Debra McLaughlin said, “The arrival of Lateral Flow Tests at the end of last week provided relief as we were immediately able to provide these directly to those classes that needed them and to maintain a quick turnaround time. This reduced disruption in learning considerably.”
Cayman International school Principal Jim Urquhart said, “The supply of tests has been tricky. I was just talking earlier today with a person involved in the lateral flow policy as well as the Ministry of Education, and I’m in awe of how much they’re working to keep slightly ahead of the curve.”
He said, “I think that the 10-day protocol, as robust as it is, may be hard to keep up with in the long run if we continue on this current exponential increase.”
(Read our story on the status of COVID in Cayman schools here.)
CIS Principal Jim Urquhart joined Patrick Brendel of the Cayman Current and April Cummings of Cayman Life TV on this week’s episode of EdBeat to discuss his school’s recent expansion and also to give a snapshot of the COVID situation at CIS.
Within the past 2 years, CIS has opened an early childhood facility and more recently a new high school building, which opened in January.
Urquhart said the enrolment at CIS at the beginning of this school year was 947 students, a 17% increase over last year’s. Due to staffing constraints, the school is effectively at maximum capacity, though the facilities would allow for an estimated 1,080 total students, he said.
In terms of dealing with the ongoing COVID spike, Urquhart said CIS is being creative and flexible. For example, each day they bring in a number of substitute teachers (almost on a ‘retainer’ basis) who can be available in case multiple staff teachers suddenly call in sick.
Additionally, staff who aren’t normally in classrooms — including Urquhart himself — are jumping in to teach lessons when necessary.
Urquhart said overall it’s important to keep in mind that for more than a year Cayman has managed to keep schools open through the pandemic, and is on track to keep them open until the virus eventually plays itself out.
“We’re still face-to-face and there isn’t a horizon, to the best of my knowledge, that says we’d go back to online learning,” he said.
He also emphasised maintaining a broader perspective amid the daily grind and stresses caused by COVID: “It speaks to the importance of education that when we’re older we tend to worry about our soul and our relationships and our health. I think it’s important for our parents and our staff to take a step back and say, ‘There may be times when the quadratic equation might not be the most important thing that’s going on.’ And I say that as a former science teacher.”
While parents are busy worrying about their children, they should also be sure to take care of themselves, he said.
“You remember ‘the olden days’ when we used to fly on airplanes, and the person would say, ‘Don’t forget to put on your oxygen mask, but if you’re travelling with a younger child to still put your own oxygen mask on first,’ Urquhart said. “I am worried that the number of people that are putting on their own oxygen mask first is becoming less and less.”
[Editor’s Note: Urquhart’s appearance is the first in what will become a recurring feature on EdBeat, where we’ll touch base with principals about what is going on in their schools. The idea for having principals as regular guests was suggested to us by a local teacher. We are always open to comments and advice, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org]
(Watch EdBeat: Episode 21 here.)
Paul Robinson, the Director of the Cayman Islands Public Library Service, died last weekend.
We interviewed Robinson last November about the role that libraries play in Cayman’s society and globally.
From our November 2020 story: “Citing the existence of libraries back into antiquity, Paul Robinson believes libraries will continue to play a vital role in society even as technology changes how and where we can access information. Robinson, the Director of the Cayman Islands Public Library Service, says a library is more than a building or books, but is an egalitarian access point for the community to the world’s knowledge.”
Robinson was originally from near Liverpool in the Northwest of England. A writer himself, Robinson spent a decade working in television as an archivist and librarian and worked in Bermuda for 3 years as an archivist. He arrived in Cayman in 2009 to work for the Cayman Islands National Archive. He moved to the Library Service in 2013, was named Acting Director in 2018 and was confirmed as Director in 2019.
“A library should be a democratic place. It should be open, and it’s for people to open their minds,” Robinson said. “Although it’s physically meant to be quiet, it isn’t intellectually meant to be quiet. It’s meant to be very noisy intellectually, and it’s meant to engage people’s minds.”
(Read our November 2020 interview with Robinson here.)
(Read the Library Service’s initial notice of Robinson’s death here.)
(Read condolences from top Cayman government officials here.)
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 ($): Teachers, uniformed services staff to get booster shots
- The Guardian (UK): Do not encourage pupils to join climate protests, says draft DfE strategy
- BVI Beacon: After teacher “sickout”, education minister seeks $2 million to fix school system
- Miami Herald ($): Professors sue over conflict of interest policy despite UF’s reversing its decision
- Miami Herald ($): UF’s ban on professors testifying against state to be investigated, accreditor says
- The Virgin Islands Daily News: Human Services takes over investigation into school’s failure to respond to alleged sex abuse
- Jamaica Gleaner ($): Finance ministry mum on possible forfeiture action against Reid clan
- Jamaica Observer: All for sixth form
- Jamaica Observer: EDITORIAL | Education, training and employment for a stable Jamaica
- Jamaica Observer: Some teachers still awaiting summer school payment
- Jamaica Gleaner: Special education students struggling with online learning
- The Guardian (UK): Covid infections dip among secondary schoolchildren in England
- Miami Herald ($): Judge rejects school districts’ challenge of Florida rule banning mask mandates
- Jamaica Observer: Student safety top priority, says education ministry
- Eye Witness News (Bahamas): SCHOOL PREP STILL UNDERWAY: No date for return of face-to-face learning but minister hopes it’s ‘soon’
The Week Ahead
- EdBeat: Episode 22
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