THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS: AN OPPORTUNITY AND CHALLENGE (PART TWO): THE ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY OF SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS

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In this second article of the series centered the opportunity and responsibilities of the various stakeholders (the government and its internal partners, the managers of schools, parents/guardians, and the community) ensuring that our schools are reopened in a safe and conducive environment the emphasis is on the responsibility of the schools. How may they play a key role in making the dream come true of seeing our children back to school free of Ebola? What are their specific roles and tasks? Let us explore a bit below. The introductory article observed the following points:

One of the areas in which Ebola has taken the biggest toll on affected countries is in the area of education. In Liberia, specifically, the children and all who were in various learning institutions have missed out on an education for a whole semester! This poses a direct and immediate problem for the parents and guardians and the students themselves. In the long term it poses a big problem for the entire nation because its future leaders are missing out on the fundamental building rock of any nation—education, education, and education. The children are bored staying home and many parents/guardians do not know what to do about it and or do not have the means to do something about it. One can imagine what this does to the home in the Liberian society during this ongoing Ebola crisis.

Thus it is exciting to hear and know that schools are about to reopen! Parents, guardians and students are running all over the place finding money and are registering in their numbers. But is it safe for all of us? Many people are concerned.

This series is intended to help us to know or be reminded of some of the things we ought to do and keep doing before and after our schools and leaning institutions are reopened while a few cases of Ebola are still in the country. We begin with the government. By government we mean the three branches of government but in particular the line ministries of Education, Health, and Public Works along with the international partners.

The government has released protocols for a safe leaning environment in a fifteen-page document focusing on every school having Ebola committee to be linked through the county heath team to a nearby health facility, hand washing and temperature taking facilities for students and school personnel, clear and simple information on contacts of students and faculty/staff at registration, and short-stay facility for suspected cases.

We appeal to the government and its international partners to ensure that the protocols are widely disseminated in all schools, communities and to all stakeholders. That adequate hand washing water and thermometers are supplied to the schools, and that schools are closely monitored to ensure compliance with the protocols.

In addition to the government and its international partners the schools and all learning institutions themselves have a particular responsibility to the students and parents to ensure that the regulations for keeping their institutions safe are observed at all times. They need to make sure that they have the protocols, understand them and help each of their teachers/lecturers have and understand them well. It is no use for schools to have the protocols if teachers/lecturers do not have access to and thus do not know what the protocols are that they are expected to help implement.

The institutions are to have workshops with all of their staff (administrators, faculty and support personnel) in order to help them understand and become active participants of the new regime of health and safety in addition to the regular academic requirements. This means among many things, all learning institutions have accurate contacts of all their personnel and the parents/guardians of all students to be made use of in case of any emergencies.

Also schools and learning institutions must make it mandatory for at least a parent or guardian of each student to come to the first Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meeting so that both parties are aware of their responsibility and role of complying with the protocols. Attendance to this meeting must be a precondition to accepting and keeping a student in a school or learning institution.

Further, all learning institutions are to ensure that they have adequate water, thermometer and chlorine/clorax/soap supplies for frequent hand washings and temperature checks of students, school personnel and all visitors (parents/guardians or their representatives and others). For this they will need the help of our government and its partners and the communities. In short this will mean each school/learning institution having a strong and vibrant health committee to promote good hygiene practices beyond Ebola and realizing that the safety of its environment lies, in large measure, in its own hands.

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