“Ebola is still in the country, and in case of an outbreak at any of the school campuses, all the parents and their children in that particular school will be quarantined, because no one will be sure of the health status of those students,“ warned Horatio Weedor, Head of Super Micro Lending at Access Bank-Liberia.
According to Mr. Weedor, the idea of re-opening schools was not a bad one, but he maintains that Ebola is still around, it would have been better for the government to wait and observe that the virus is completely wiped out of the country.
For her part, the president of the Catholic-run Stella Maris Polytechnic, Sister Mary Laurene Browne, says it is a difficult time but that all Liberians and their partners must make the sacrifice and act accordingly by keeping strictly to the Ebola preventive measures whenever schools are reopened.
She believes that waiting any longer than the date set by authorities of the Ministry of Education (MOE) for the resumption of academic activities will result in “the country’s education sector going from bad to worse,” adding that to be declared an Ebola free country will take a long time and our school-going children will become over age for their current classes.
According to the renowned educator, government does not have to satisfy everybody at the same time, but must ensure that there is strict observance of the preventive measures even though those rules may curtail some of the students’ freedom.
Says Sister Laurene, “This is a difficult time, but we all have to make the sacrifice because it cannot be business as usual.” As such, the Spiritan Academy, which she runs has embarked on procedures leading to the re-arrangement of seating capacity of students to at least 25 to 30 students per class.”
Meanwhile, registration at the Spiritan Academy has already commenced with parents rushing to the campus to pick up the bank slips to beat the deadline set by the administration for the payment of tuition and fees.
On the other hand, some parents, including Anna Martins and Moses Peters, observed that “There is still danger. You see our problem mainly has to do with the little kids. For those older ones, we can have some control. You see, when the children are sometimes not feeling well their parents do not let them stay home, but bring them to school to relieve themselves of the responsibility. We have other children that they (sick children) will interact with so it will be a whole lot of problems,” these parents fear.
Apart from the Ebola danger, some parents have complained that the January 12 registration puts them under considerable pressure because their financial conditions have declined due to the Ebola crisis which adversely affected their sources of income.
Despite the government announcement calling for preparations to now begin for the reopening of schools, many schools especially private institutions appear to be finding it difficult to meet up with the February 2 deadline set by the MOE.
During a tour of several high schools in Monrovia, this paper observed that most school campuses are in deplorable condition with garbage strewn grounds, filthy classrooms and benches and other furniture in dilapidated condition. On other school campuses, the gates were closed, dampening the excitement of parents who have already started visiting schools to gage the position of school authorities on the registration process which was halted in August due to the Ebola outbreak.
At most of the school campuses, including the David G. Barshell, Sr. School System in the commercial district of Red Light, Paynesville which comprises a daycare, nursery, elementary, junior and senior high school, there were no signs of preparedness on the part of the school to re-open its doors.
Benches were scattered all over the school premises and chairs in the various classrooms were seen covered with dust while many are in deplorable condition, suggesting that the cleaning up exercise for the school is yet to begin.
The school buses were seen parked in filthy condition with some tires removed. A group of men and women, who appeared to be residing on the compound, said that members of the school administration are yet to show up on campus.
At the St. Matthew Lutheran High School in the old LBS community near the Omega market, there was no one on campus, neither parents nor school administrators. No cleaning up has been done and the campus remains in a mess.
At the St. Paul Lutheran High School and the St. Joseph Catholic School, respectively, only security guards were seen on duty and they informed the Daily Observer that the principals were gone out to seek advice from the District Education Officer regarding the re-opening of schools.
Mr. Moses K. Vah, Vice Principal for Administration at the Effort Baptist Church School said that the timeline for re-opening of schools appears difficult to meet. He said his school had not administered entrance exams to new students before the closure of schools by the government and his school does not have sufficient time to do so.
The evaluation of new students as well as the preparedness of the students themselves has been the general concern of most interviewees. They emphasized the need to evaluate the students properly through the administration of entrance exams.
Vah believes the reopening of schools should be extended to February 15 to give more room for preparation, indicating that recruiting teachers is another major challenge that needs to be tackled.
According to Vah, even before schools were shut down, some teachers had earlier tendered their resignations, while others left when schools were finally closed.
“Some of the teachers will not come back. We believe that most of them will not come back. If school will open February 2 and we don’t have all of these teachers in place, how will we teach the children?” he wondered.
Student Mingling Control
Vah is worried about younger children who tend to mingle together at school, oblivious of the Ebola virus danger even though the deadly disease is waning.
He said proper ways to control the interaction of these children will be a major challenge, adding that there was danger looming owing to the lingering Ebola virus in the coming months.
Parents and school administrators expressed concern about transportation issues, pointing out that commercial buses and taxis have been woefully inadequate to meet the demand of commuting students and the general public. The rush on public transportation even in the current absence of the student population leaves many worrying how the added demand will be managed especially with the Ebola virus still lurking.
Provision of Anti-Ebola Supplies to Schools
With all the concerns raised about the safety of students amid new cases of Ebola in Montserrado and other parts of the country, the Ministry of Education is yet to complete the deployment of anti-Ebola supplies to various schools.
According to the MOE, the deployment of the anti-Ebola materials would be completed by Feb 29, 2015, which means some schools might open without the none-contact thermometers and hand washing facilities.
Appearing on the Truth Breakfast Show Monday, on Truth FM, the Head of the National Principals Association, Dargbay Johnson, noted that while it is essential to re-open schools across the country, there is a need for the MOE to address prevailing circumstances currently facing many schools.
“Our plans are to engage the MOE constructively. You see we are concerned about the parents and the students. We have issues to put on the table,” he said. “We have a concept paper to deliver in that meeting. Because we believe if we want to help the parents and the students we have to do something for the private institutions.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced in August the closure of all schools, while placing Dolo’s Town and West Point communities under quarantine in a bid to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the country.
Six months later, the President has announced the re-opening of schools on February 2, with registration activities expected to begin on Monday, Jan 12.
Whether all schools will be able to meet the deadline remains to be seen, as many school campuses remain in a dilapidated state with no indication that preparations to receive students have begun.