It all began with a temperature check.
Year 6 had gone down to the canteen for their morning snack and, afterwards, following the sanitisation of tables and hands, had lined up to have their temperatures taken. As Harry passed through, the alarm went off.
The guard motioned for him to stand to one side so that others could pass through. No one else set off the alarm. Resetting the scanner, Harry passed through again, with the alarms sounding again.
He was taken directly to the school nurse, who confirmed a high temperature. Harry was sent home, with his parents explicitly instructed that he should be taken straight to the doctor.
Covid testing and schools: The importance of following the rules
The next day, a message arrived from Harry’s parents to say that he had been diagnosed with a fever and given medication. He would return to school on Monday.
Monday arrived and Harry returned. In line with school protocol, he should have presented a medical certificate as proof of his absence, but he did not.
Once again, upon exiting the canteen at morning break, the thermal scanners were set off by a number of students. The guard duly took them all to one side and reset the scanner.
The first six passed through with "normal temperature" reported. Harry walked through and the scanner was set off again. A colleague sprayed perfume from her bag on to a tissue, held it up and asked if he could smell it. He said not.
Keeping Harry at a distance, he was walked up to the medical room so that the nurse could check him. He was then sent home again with instructions that he must have a Covid test.
The next day a photograph came of Harry’s rapid Covid test, showing that it was negative. The nurse persisted, telling his parents that he must have a PCR test due to its higher accuracy. On Thursday morning, the result of his PCR test arrived. It was positive.
Within an hour of receipt, Year 6 were returned to class, bags packed, and taken to the bus bay where they would be sent home by the SLT. The levels of contact were established for each student and teacher, determining who would need to have a PCR test and self-isolate.
What struck me was the level of effect that the actions of one student had on a school.
A year group of 70 students sent home, with two classes having to take PCR tests as they were considered close contacts. All of their siblings – perhaps another 30 children in total – had to be sent home as a precaution.
A number of staff, including all Year 6 staff, a number of PE and modern language teachers, plus a selection of other staff in the primary and secondary school, were sent home to isolate or take PCR tests.
As per the protocols where I teach, the school was obliged to inform the country's ministry of health about the Covid case.
They carried out an inspection and all staff and pupils who had been identified as Category B (close contacts) had to attend a drive-thru the following day to have a tag bracelet put on to their wrists.
All close contacts had to isolate for 10 days from the date of their last contact with Harry. Since then, it turned out that a further student has tested positive for Covid. A number of staff and students – myself included – have been recalled for a second PCR test and had their period of isolation extended.
I am writing this from a country where "face" is important. Harry’s parents did not feel that they had done anything wrong – they had sent their son back to school on the date that they had been told by the doctor and did not see the lack of a medical certificate as an issue.
They had not communicated with the school office but, rather, had sent all information to his class co-teacher. Fortunately, she shared everything promptly with colleagues, which meant that Covid evacuation procedures could begin in a timely manner.
Our schools’ operating procedures are meticulous, but we cannot account for external events. The actions of one student affect more than their class – additional classes, siblings and staff will also be caught up.
While cases have happened in older year groups, this has noticeably shaken parents’ confidence as primary school children have been involved.
As it happens, we shall be learning online for the next few weeks; it remains to be seen if parents will feel comfortable sending their children back for the final few weeks of term.
The author teaches in an international school in South-East Asia. All names have been changed