Published On: Tue, Aug 18th, 2020

Education must continue

~ No need for rules if common sense rules ~

PHILIPSBURG – The beginning of the new school year created a rather awkward situation, not only for the government, but also for schools and parents. While some schools want to open for business, others want to remain closed while parents threaten with legal action if they don’t open. StMaartenNews.com will attempt to make sense of all this by presenting an outline of the decisions and initiatives that were taken so far.

Education Minister Drs. Rodolphe Samuel wrote a letter to parents and guardians on July 31, announcing the decision to begin the school year with distance learning until further notice.

The Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs, Ludmilla de Weever, and the Minister of Public health, Richard Panneflek, in the meantime published a ministerial regulation that initially did not apply to schools. The regulation only mentioned rules for “religious and social institutions and not for profit organizations, companies and stores.”

But in a letter dated August 11, Minister Panneflek wrote to his colleague Minister Samuel that the regulation also applies to schools. Panneflek’s letter contains an instruction to schools to resume classes via online mediums. “For the protection of all residents schools cannot resume as normal until St. Maarten has ten or less (read: fewer) cases.”

Related article: Currently there are 202 active cases

Panneflek furthermore noted that the Caribbean International Academy and the Montessori School had submitted their safety plans but that they were still subject to a vetting process. The ministry received a safety plan from Learning Unlimited three days before he wrote his letter, on August 8. That plan also had to go through a vetting process.

A day later, Learning Unlimited opened for business, but Minister Panneflek ordered the police to intervene and close the place down. Learning Unlimited went to court and obtained a ruling that prohibits the government from interfering with the school’s onsite education activities.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Caribbean International Academy and the Montessori School; management wants to keep its doors closed, but parents threaten to take the schools to court if they do not resume classes. CIA-President Huguette Halley urged in a letter the government to provide guidance, saying that the school “does not have a foot to stand on” if there is no administrative decision that supports the continued closure of private schools.

The day before the police closed down Learning Unlimited, Minister Samuel wrote a letter to all private school boards. In it, he repeats the decision that all public and private school boards should provide education through distance learning until further notice.

Minister Samuel urged (not: ordered) schools to comply with this decision to avoid an instruction from his ministry and that of the public health ministry to cease operations.

But a couple a days after the public health ministry indeed took action to close down Learning Unlimited, the court ruling that gives the school the right to continue with onsite education turned everything upside down again.

Until there is an administrative decision to underpin the order to close down schools for onsite learning, there is nothing the government can do to enforce its understandable desire to keep the school doors ‘open’ only for distance learning.

The Education Ministry leans heavily on its Education Continuity Plan, a 30-page document that contains a comprehensive number of scenarios for the reopening of schools. While the details differ, the basic approach remains the same: wear facemasks, wash your hands and practice social distancing.