The first school to reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown said yesterday that a string of precautions had been set up to protect pupils — but that the safety rules would be changed if needed.
Wayne Edwards, the principal of Bermuda Institute in Southampton, said: “We are in uncharted waters — it is a journey and things will improve.
“Our No 1 priority is the safety of our staff and students — we do not want to contribute to any of the coronavirus being spread throughout this nation.”
Mr Edwards was speaking after the private Seventh-day Adventist school opened its doors to pupils on Monday — three weeks before public schools are scheduled to restart.
He said that the back-to-school process had gone well, but there were lessons learnt and adjustments that needed to be made.
Mr Edwards said: “We had a Zoom meeting on Saturday evening from 7pm and the parents were introduced to the protocols so they knew what to expect.
“The Home and School Association, our PTA equivalent, had a welcoming in the parking lot for the students, where cookies were handed out and pictures taken.
“Parents were not allowed on campus except parents with pre-kindergarteners who were allowed to go to an enclosed area on campus but not enter the building. The others stayed in the parking lot.”
Mr Edwards said pupils had their temperatures checked and used hand sanitiser before they entered the school and that desks in classrooms had been spaced at least three feet apart.
The pupils remained in the same classrooms and teachers came to them.
Mr Edwards said: “We had staggered dismissal times for lunch, and meals were prepackaged — that is new.
“The students have lunch in their rooms and the older students, when accompanied by a teacher, can eat outside under the gazebos to get fresh air.
“Only three students are allowed in the bathroom at a time and we have lots of sanitisers in place. They use the extreme ends of the sinks to wash their hands and we are ensuring that they wash before they eat.”
Mr Edwards said sanitisers at the school gates had not been used as much as he wanted but that more sanitisers were added to where temperatures were taken. Pupils aged ten and older had to wear masks at all times and younger children wore them on the way to class, but could choose if they wanted wear them in class.
Mr Edwards said classrooms were well-ventilated and pupils had to stay in separated groups — “bubbles”.
But he admitted that keeping children apart during break times was a problem.
Mr Edwards said: “They stay in their bubble, but they will run and touch each other and play, I saw that happening.
“It will be difficult to keep them apart. I am not going to tell you it is perfect, but we are working on it and are constantly reinforcing our protocols.
“We have to keep telling them not to share personal things like water bottles. It is something we have to think about in terms of mixed messages — they can still share, but not personal items.”
There are 270 students at the school, aged between 4 and 18, and 36 members of staff.
The school auditorium has been converted to house two of the larger senior classrooms to allow for social-distancing. The library has also been turned into a classroom.
Carpets have been removed from some of the school’s rooms, but a plan to install Plexiglas partitions in classrooms was abandoned because of a lack of materials.
Signs to remind children of the health rules are also posted around the school.
Four full-time maintenance staff deep-clean the school every day and two parents have volunteered to help with lighter cleaning.
There are no school buses yet and Mr Edwards said that he had not heard from the Department of Public Transportation.
He added: “We usually have two school buses and they are usually full. My assumption is that we are going to need four school buses with physical-distancing.”
Mr Edwards added that, despite the restrictions, children were happy to be back at school.
He said: “Emotionally it is not expressing itself right now, I think the atmosphere of being back in school has trumped everything else — that euphoria of being out of the house.”
But he added: Therein lies the issue of running and playing with each other.
“In terms of telling a student they can not see their friend for a long time and telling them they can’t hug ... it is a bit troubling for them, but we have not seen anyone saddened.”