Excitement yesterday characterized the resumption of academic activities, particularly in Central Monrovia, as several schools reopened their doors.
Yesterday’s activities came contrary to earlier reports of the delay experienced three times for the resumption of academic activities, which caused the postponement thereof until Monday, February 16.
With the excitement in and around monrovia, reports coming from other parts of the country speak of poor preparations as of yesterday, towards the reopening of schools.
Education Minister Etmonia David Tarpeh had earlier informed school authorities, parents and school age children that schools would reopen February 16, which contradicted her administration’s earlier guideline, which had February 2 as the date for the resumption of academic activities, given the decline of the Ebola crisis.
The registration of students, orientation of teachers and other related preliminary activities that would have paved the way for the reopening of schools by February 2, began on January 12.
However, a meeting of the Legislative Joint Committees on Education and Health with the Ministry of Education caused a delay, as the legislative body suggested that schools open no earlier than March 2, to give enough time for schools to prepare for students, and for parents to get their children registered and logistically prepared for school.
Minister Tarpeh told President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the last cabinet retreat that schools would not wait until March to reopen, but would commence classes as of February 16. In agreement, the President responded that the Legislature should simply let the Executive do its job.
The Minister however noted that any delay from any school administration to reopen would not face any disciplinary action.
The Liberian government ordered all schools closed in July last year due to the Ebola outbreak and later announced in January, this year that schools would reopen on February 2.
“The truth is that schools will be opening on February 16 as we have indicated, and I think there was some confusion with some of the information that went out, unfortunately. And so we are trying to correct that,” she told a foreign-based news organ over the weekend.
Tarpeh said she realized the confusion the new information might have caused, but claimed it was not intentional. The MOE has a “mode of operation” which states that no official policy or statement is released unless the Minister of Education has seen and approved it.
Minister Tarpeh said the official who put out the wrong information has since been reprimanded and said official subsequently apologized.
On the other hand, Tarpeh said the MOE is very conscious about the concerns of parents, some of whom have said that they might not be able to get all materials necessary to register their children by February 16.
“So we’re making it like a roll-out kind of opening so that even with the opening on the 16th, people will still be able to register and get into school. Hopefully, whenever they are able to obtain all that their children need, they will not be denied entry into schools,” the Minister said.
A group of Liberian lawmakers recently called for a delay in the reopening of schools, because they said the MOE had not delivered Ebola prevention equipment, such as temperature checking devices, hand pumps and sanitary accessories, to schools across the country.
At the height of the Ebola outbreak, some schools were used as Ebola Treatment Centers (ETUs), including the campus of the M. V. Massaquoi Elementary on Bushrod Island. With this, too, Minister Tarpeh said school renovations would be ongoing even after schools are in session.
Up to yesterday, most school administrators were saying that having Ebola prevention measures in place on the campuses remained one of the biggest challenges the MOE faced prior to resumption of classes.
UNICEF, USAID to the rescue
UNICEF announced in a press release yesterday that it has provided over 7,000 Ebola prevention kits, in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), that are currently being distributed to over 4,000 schools in all 98 school districts across the Liberia.
With the support of UNICEF, and other international partners, the Government of Liberia has developed protocols for the safe re-opening of schools. Among other steps, these protocols call for setting up hand-washing stations, checking the temperature of anyone entering the school, establishing an isolation area for children and staff who may fall ill, and having in place a system of referral to the nearest health facility.
The infection prevention kits, as well as training on the protocols provided by UNICEF, will help schools, parent-teacher associations (PTAs), and communities further minimize the risk of infection from Ebola, UNICEF says.
“Our biggest focus is to ensure that school facilities are adequate and they are in the condition that we would like for the children to be as safe as possible, with all the anti-Ebola protocols in place,” Minister Tarpeh said. “This includes training of teachers, community leaders and the PTAs (Parent-Teacher Associations) and ensuring that they all learn to work together to support school activities of their children.”
The MOE has also instructed school administrators to understand students’ situations when they return to school. This means, school authorities should not send students home for lack of proper uniform or the full tuition, at least for the first semester.”
Meanwhile, students across the greater Monrovia area showed great excitement as they returned to classes yesterday.
On the campus of government-run Newport Junior High School in Monrovia, euphoric students queued up as early as 7 a.m. to go through their regular Ebola test before entering classes.
“They patiently stood in queues to wash their hands before entering the iron sealed gates, then remained in line for individual temperature checking as part of the preventive measures,” Vice Principal for Student Affairs, Abraham B. Barrolle, disclosed.
According to him, students are anxious to enter classes and “We are getting good cooperation from them in their numbers.”
To continue the Ebola preventive measures the government, in collaboration with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued every school six pieces of the non-contact thermometers for temperature taking on campuses, as well as what is referred to as, “Making Schools Safe Places for Learning Implementation of the Safe School Protocols flipbook.”
In the flipbook guideline, students and teachers are being told to keep on disseminating the awareness information to protect themselves, their family members, their schools, etc.
All the students’ health related issues at Newport Junior High will understandably be forwarded to Mr. Moses U-Joe Weidehgar. Mr. Weidehgar is an instructor, who is also attending the A.M. Dogliotti Medical College at the University of Liberia.
Mr. Weidehgar told the Daily Observer that “preventive measures remain one of the most important goals of the school. The aim is to avoid any outbreak.”
For B.W. Harris Episcopal School Principal, Lurleen King Falla, the first day of reopening, “is very interesting as the students themselves know the Ebola preventive rules.”
Despite students going by the preventive measures, her administration has for now disallowed any outsiders to come and sell to the students, especially those in the beginning classes.
At the Cathedral Catholic School on Snapper Hill, the elation about the return to school was visible on the faces of students who trooped to classes.