Hong Kong’s biggest international school group will have thousands of its staff undergo regular Covid-19 screening from this week to meet a prerequisite by education authorities to fully resume in-person classes, the Post has learned.
But no exact date has yet been set for the full resumption of half-day classes at the 22 kindergartens and schools run by the English Schools Foundation. Schools which apply to education authorities to fully start classes will have to submit the request three days prior to the proposed date of commencement, according to officials.
ESF has about 3,000 staff members and more than 18,000 students in Hong Kong.
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“In ESF, we all share a common desire to have every one of our students back in the classroom every day,” the foundation’s chief executive Belinda Greer said in a letter to staff on Thursday.
The foundation said it would pay for “spit test” kits which would be distributed among teachers through a private vendor to “ensure confidentiality and safeguard personal details”. Teachers would take the virus tests at home every two weeks and bring the kits into school for sample collection.
It further said teachers who had concerns about being tested should speak to their school principals as soon as possible for “support or professional counselling”.
Kindergarten teachers will be the first ones to be screened, starting this week, followed by their colleagues in primary and secondary schools.
The move came after more than 200 parents demanded in a letter to the ESF management that schools start testing all teachers and staff regularly for the full resumption of face-to-face classes in the coming weeks.
The parents, who accused the foundation of its “apparent inability and lack of effort” for the full resumption of in-person learning, also asked teachers and staff to put aside their “personal differences and keep students’ interest as the top priority”.
“We expect the senior management and all teachers and staff, especially yourself [Greer], to meet the challenge and serve as role models for our children,” the letter addressed to the CEO read.
It added: “While a [Covid-19] testing for all teachers and staff every 14 days may be an inconvenience, shouldn’t the unmeasurable benefits of resuming full face-to-face teaching outweigh any other concerns?”
ESF schools, like most other city schools, have been bringing back up to one-third of the total student population on a half-day basis since the Lunar New Year holiday ended on February 22.
Even though authorities said schools which could get all staff tested fortnightly might bring back all students on campus, few schools have so far opted for that amid administrative difficulties and concerns from some principals and teachers.
Official figures as of last Friday showed only about 200 of the city’s more than 2,000 schools were either planning for a full resumption or had already done so, most of them kindergartens.
In mid-February, Greer told parents in a letter that the group would “take time to explore” the option of testing all staff and consider the implications for its implementation, although a one-third resumption would be carried out first after classes resumed from the week of February 22.
A parent of a child studying at one of the ESF schools, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she expected the foundation’s management to “do a better job”.
“It’s not just this time but it’s [an] accumulated grievance,” she said, citing examples of some parents who were dissatisfied with a 45 per cent refund of one month’s tuition fee last year by the management amid the pandemic.
In a reply to the Post, Greer did not say whether the foundation had made the decision because of the pressure from parents, but only added: “With the ongoing uncertainty of the current situation and the long-term view that some degree of disruption may continue for the remainder of the academic year, it is imperative that we now take forward plans to increase the time for our students to spend in school.”
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