Schools will remain open despite the "steep" rise in isolating students and infected staff
A total of 565 schools staff tested positive after almost 33,000 PCRs, 1.7% of the total
BarcelonaUntil the end of January or the beginning of February, a "sharp" rise in the number of isolating students and covid-19 cases is expected among professionals in the education sector. But despite the forecast, the education department is committed to keeping schools open "whatever the level of the pandemic". "This is the only way to maintain the levels of social cohesion and equal opportunities necessary to overcome this crisis," said the Secretary General of Education, Núria Cuenca, at a press conference to take stock of the first week of classes after the Christmas holidays.
This is one of the arguments defended by some 90 professionals linked to education, sociology, economics, political science, psychology and pedagogy, among other branches, when a few days ago they published a manifesto in which they positioned themselves "in favour of the opening up of schools, as an essential instrument in the fight against educational inequality and a guarantor of social equity". The manifesto was a response to a controversial letter sent by some 20 epidemiologists and statisticians to the Health Department asking for a "temporary closure of schools", from primary to university education, in order to "prevent new infections and contribute to the reduction of the incidence of covid-19".
According to Cuenca, this "rather vertical growth" in cases will be explained by three reasons: the department is catching up after three weeks without collecting data, at the community level the pandemic is also out of control, and the massive screening in the centres is causing positive outbreaks that force the confinement of stable groups. So far, the 32,892 self-sampled PCR tests that have been carried out by teachers and professionals in schools - 23% of those planned - have detected 565 positives, 1.7% of the total. "These are sustainable and manageable levels," she said. At a community level, the rate of positivity in Catalonia is about 10%, a much higher figure than that detected in schools through screening, which will intensify in the next two weeks.
In fact, the "vertical" growth of cases has already begun to be noticed in the classrooms. Since Friday, some 600 more groups have had isolate, and 1,650 classes are already in quarantine, that is, 2.29% of the total number of students. These 1,650 isolating groups are still far from the maximum recorded in the first term - on 31 October there were 3,504 - but the rate of growth is now much higher: if in the first term the 1,650 confined groups were attained a month after classes began, the same figure has now been reached in one week.
To do: ventilation and laptops
In addition to managing the day-to-day impact of the pandemic, the department starts the second quarter of this year with unfinished business. Regarding ventilation, during the Christmas holidays Catalan Education minister Josep Bargalló claimed that he would install purifiers in the coldest schools, as classes were resumed in the middle of a cold spell and it was not possible to maintain thermal comfort and at the same time ventilate the classrooms. On the first day of the school year, however, the centres received new recommendations that allowed them to greatly reduce ventilation time. Cuenca has said that they have not received complaints from the centres, but "15 or 20 queries", and that they have all been able to be resolved by doing "better natural ventilation", so there is no centre that has required alternative ventilation systems.
The ARA did receive complaints from some teachers about how cold classrooms are. "I am a secondary school teacher in Terrassa. We have taught all our classes at far less than 17ºC and on Mondays and Tuesdays we do not exceed 10ºC. The classrooms are in modules and are not isolated," a teacher told this newspaper.
With regard to the delivery of laptops, only 15,510 of the 300,000 intended for students in 3rd and 4th year of ESO, high school and vocational training have been delivered, due to manufacturing and logistics problems. Although it was announced that the famous laptops would be delivered before Christmas, Cuenca has said that the delivery will be completed before the second term, i.e. 3 months later and when there will be only 3 more months of class. Moreover, only half of the 72,300 computers planned for teachers have been distributed.