The Joint Legislative Committee on Health and Education of the Liberian Senate has recommended that schools in the country reopen on March 2, 2015, instead of the February 2, 2015 as was announced by authorities of the Ministry of Education.
The nine-member joint committee chaired by Senators Peter Coleman for the Committee on Health, and Dallas A.V. Gueh for Education, recommended to the plenary yesterday, that the reopening of schools for instructional purposes be delayed for one month to allow adequate preparation of the facilities, and the delivery of all needed sanitation kits to the 5,181 schools within the Republic of Liberia.
During this period, the committee recommended that renovation of 500 schools targeted must commence and most likely made ready for reopening.
The committee in its five-page document advised that the registration process remain ongoing to enable parents do the registration of their kids in a much more flexible manner; and further recommended that schools must not be allowed to have on their information sheets any fees attached to acquiring Ebola-related materials and violators to be sanctioned administratively by the Ministry of Education.
The recommendation is the outcome of findings from a hearing conducted by the joint committee on January 27, 2015 on the level of preparedness of the two sectorial ministries towards the reopening of schools.
In the findings, the joint committee was reportedly informed by the Ministry of Health that it had concluded jointly with the Ministry of Education that a protocol for the reopening of schools is ready which, if followed, will ensure a safe and Ebola-free environment for the students, as well as instructional and administrative staff.
The Ministry of Health during the hearing, also disclosed that all hygiene and sanitation materials as well as temperature monitoring devices were available in the country, and were in the process to being distributed, but was not very sure that all will be distributed before February 2nd date of reopening.
For its part, the Ministry of Education informed the joint committee that the training of County Education Officers (CEOs), District Education Officers (DEOs) and administrators is ongoing, but will not be completed before the February 2 date of reopening throughout the country.
The committee further gathered from the Ministry of Education that the 500 schools targeted for rehabilitation on a quick impact project basis have yet to commence and that, if works should begin, will surely not be completed before February 2, 2015. Similarly, the provision of hand pumps and sanitary accessories to schools around the country is ongoing, but cannot be completed on time.
On the issue of request for additional subsidies for private and faith-based schools, Ministry of Education said the matter is still under discussion and that it is a major challenge faced by that ministry as institutions are the larger part of schools within the country.
“Initial discussions had a US$3 Million (United States Three Million Dollars) figure, but that has been rounded to US$17 million; it is not feasible that the discussion will be concluded and financed before Monday, February 2, 2015. There is however, a need for assistance to be provided the private and faith based schools.”
Concluding, the committee informed the Senate plenary that information gathered from various parts of the country, as stated by various lawmakers from both Houses of the Legislature, has revealed that many schools are in a serious deplorable condition and will not be ready for the reopening on February 2nd; and that most of the protocols instituted by the ministries of Education and Health, have not trickled down to rural Liberia.
Speaking for the first time since his recent induction, Montserrado County Senator George Manneh Weah who signed as member of the nine-member committee argued that the two ministries were not ready for the February 2nd date for schools reopening.
Senator Weah observed out of 23 activities, only one had been carried out in preparation for the reopening of schools. He however did not elaborate.
The sitting then voted to adopt the recommendation and requested the joint committee to once again meet with authorities of the two sector ministries for final decision, and return to plenary for action.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Senate was requested to write and inform President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf about the Legislature’s recommendation.
It may be recalled that Senators Grand Bassa and Montserrado Counties Nyonblee Kangar-Lawrence and Geraldine Doe-Sherif, respectively, recently wrote the Senate plenary in which they raised a four-point concern that they needed to be addressed in the wake of the announcement by the Ministry of Education that schools would reopen on February 2, 2015.
The two Senators wanted the Senate to ascertain whether schools should reopen before the country is declared Ebola free, and to know if the Ministry of Education has done adequate preparation for the reopening of schools.
The Senators also raised concerns about parents’ preparation to pay tuition with such short notice; and whether schools, especially private ones, have enough time to mobilize resources in the absence of salaries for private school teachers for the past seven (7) months, for the reopening of schools in February.
Members of the committee include Senators Peter S. Coleman, Chair, Committee on Health; Dallas A.V. Gueh, Chair, Committee on Education; Geraldine Doe-Sherif, Armah Zolu Jallah, Jewel Howard-Taylor and Nyonblee Karngar Lawrence, all under Committee on Health.
Also on the joint committee under Education are Senators Edward B. Dagoseh, Jewel Howard-Taylor, and George Manneh Weah.