The Union of Professional Educators has been considering the upcoming physical re-opening of schools very thoroughly and has already forwarded its recommendations to the Ministry of Education in this regard. The union’s recommendations focussed on heightened social distancing measures, Contact Tracing procedures, and a prompt revision of the risk assessment which had been established. Emphasis was made on the need to review social distancing procedures, especially where it comes to LSEs who by virtue of the nature of their roles end up having to disregard social distancing measures to ensure that their students fully benefit from the educational process.
While not refuting the undeniable scientific evidence behind the re-opening of schools, the union still has its reservations given that despite the promise of heightened measures, announced during the press conference held this morning, with regards to rigorous social distancing, the maintenance of the bubble system, the enforced use of masks, and the emphasis on hand hygiene, sanitization and ample ventilation, the Ministry of Education has, until the time of writing, not been forthcoming with guidelines on how these measures will be heightened, nor has it given an indication on how these heightened measures will be implemented. This is yet again placing our schools in a position where they have a very narrow timeframe in which to adequately prepare for added restrictions or strategies.
The UPE is expecting to see protocols revised to reflect the reality of the presence of the variants of the virus which have reached the island, and especially where breaks are concerned, it should be considered a priority to stagger these rest periods to avoid any mixing of bubbles and any unnecessary lengthy unregulated contact between members of the same bubble. The union is also expecting to see, as per union recommendation, a significant revision of the duration of contact required to qualify for quarantine, given that the UK variant can be up to 80% more infectious than the original coronavirus we had been dealing with. It cannot be denied that given the new reality, offered by the variant which has been dominating the scene since its reaching our shores, the 2-hour threshold is not only questionable but undeniably a possible source of extensive uncontrollable infections if maintained.
When it comes to the vaccination process the UPE is pleased to hear that well over 80% of the educators have been vaccinated, it is also true however that the unvaccinated portion of the educational sector needs to be addressed as promptly as possible. The union was disappointed to receive reports from its members claiming that following a period of illness, or quarantine, those who have had to forfeit the possibility of receiving the vaccine, were not subsequently offered a second set of appointments. The obvious lack of proactivity, on the behalf of the Ministry, in this regard can by no means be condoned.
- Contact Tracing
The UPE is expecting to see a substantial improvement in the process of contact tracing, where such activity should not exceed the 24 to 48 hours before implementation. The system has been blatantly inefficient over the past months, and the government needs to ensure that there is no repeat of the situation whereby delays reported by members reached up to a week, leaving large numbers of members of staff and students at risk of contracting the virus.
The union would like to emphasise that it will hold a zero tolerance attitude with reports, coming from any of its members, where schools accept students with any form of symptoms which may reflect those exhibited by a person infected with COVID-19. Given the infectivity rate of the variant even those suffering of allergies, or who have a certificate which declares the student as being fit for school despite persisting symptoms, should be kept at home as a preventative measure to safeguard the whole school community.
The UPE will not hold back from issuing directives should the situation arise where its members are deemed as being potentially at risk of contracting COVID-19 for any reason whatsoever.