Misc 11/01/2021

Schools reopen with more vulnerable teachers in classrooms

Bargalló admits "scientific uncertainties" but says staying closed not an option

Laia Vicens
4 min
Alumnes de l’Escola Garbí a Esplugues de Llobregat fent classe amb les restriccions de distància durant la pandèmia.

BarcelonaThe schools reopen today after a twenty-day break. Despite the doubts expressed by some experts and teachers' unions, the Catalan Education Minister, Josep Bargalló, assured RAC1 yesterday that during the last week the Generalitat has not considered "at any time" keeping the schools closed. The minister admitted that "scientifically there are uncertainties and there will be while the pandemic lasts", but for the moment the classrooms are open and the aim is to stay open until the end of the school year.

The resumption of classes will take place in a very different scenario: the vaccination campaign has begun, the pandemic has got out of control - on December 21 there were 1,837 covid admissions, 330 of them in ICU, and now there are 2,356, 458 of them very serious - and a large number of substitute teachers have been dismissed because a hundred teachers who until now were considered vulnerable to covid-19 have been brought back to the classroom.

Last June 12,800 people said they were vulnerable - over 60, pregnant, with cardiovascular disease and hypertension, diabetes, chronic lung disease or cancer - but after medical evaluations during the summer the figure dropped to 1,700. Most had their jobs adapted, but some 800 people had to stay at home. After one term off, however, one in eight teachers who were at home because they were at risk of being associated with students had to return to the classroom. One of these cases is S.G. - she prefers to remain anonymous - who is an infant school teacher and has been diagnosed with a 3 out of 4 risk level due to uncontrolled moderate-severe bronchial asthma.

Very sensitive to the virus, but "fit for work"

On 31 August, she received an e-mail in which she was described as "particularly sensitive" to the virus, but was considered "fit for work" if her job was adapted and restricted. "It's impossible to teach three-year-olds and keep a 1,5-meter distance with the children, because we have to wipe their noses, hold them..." she says. The school changed her grade and moved her to 1st grade. When her classroom was almost ready, on September 8, she received an email from the Department of Education informing her that they was being awarded temporary disability because medical reports stated that she could not have direct contact with students, a "hard blow" that she faced with resignation. She had been at home for three months, without work and pending the Catalan Institute of Medical Evaluations (ICAM), until mid-December when they called her to tell her that she had to return to class in January.

"The same doctor who had told me in September that I couldn't be with children has now told me that I can work with restrictions, such as a mask, a face shield, a distance of 1.5 metres, hand hygiene and ventilation," explains S.G. According to her, there are no medical criteria that justify the change - because she is still asthmatic - but economic ones. Vulnerable teachers who, like S.G., were at home on unexcused leave have been paid this term, so the department has had to take on these payrolls as well as those of the substitutes. Until December 21st. "The substitutes were fired on the last day of school to avoid paying for their Christmas vacation, and, if necessary, will be rehired in January. This is nonsense: it is thanks to the substitutes that the term has been able to go ahead and now they are not valued", denounces S.G.

According to departmental sources consulted by the ARA, appointing a replacement without the regular teacher having a medical leave was an "absolutely exceptional" measure, because it involves paying two salaries for the same job, a situation "that cannot be maintained over time". The same sources indicate that the high concentration of cases of sensitive personnel at the beginning of the school year led to the replacement of persons without medical leave while the temporary incapacity or adaptation of the job was being assessed. Now teachers who do not have a medical leave will have to return to school, using PPE and seeking to adapt their job.

The unions want 15 more days

All this has provoked a lot of criticism from the education unions, such as USTEC, Intersindical-CSC, CSIF, CCOO and ANPE, which have also called for a postponement of the reopening of the centres for at least 15 days, to await the effect of the restrictions. On Friday, USTEC brought coal to the Education Department for its management of the pandemic and again criticised the layoffs of replacements to save wages. With schools open again, the day-to-day management of the pandemic will continue to shape the day-to-day operations of the centres.

Catalonia already has 63,731 people vaccinated

According to the latest update from the Department of Health, 63,731 people have already received the first dose of the covid-19 vaccine in Catalonia. In the last 24 hours, 10.388 received the jab, despite the fact the snow storm Filomena did not allow the vaccination in Terres de l'Ebre or in the city of Lleida. Catalonia received the first big shipment of 60.000 vaccines on Tuesday 29th December. This week there has been a considerable acceleration in the rate of vaccination, vaccinating 10,000, 13,000 and 16,000 people per day. While the number of those vaccinated is growing, however, covid-19 continues to wreak havoc. Yesterday, the total number of covid-19 patients in hospitals was 2,356, the same as on Saturday, 458 of whom were in ICU. Thirteen new deaths were recorded, bringing the total number to 17,558. The rate of spread of covid-19, Rt, fell by a tenth to 1.34, while Effective Pontential Growth also fell, in this case by 64 points to 576.