Schools reaching "the limit": 120,000 in quarantine and 20,000 new cases

Education Dpt has appointed 8,000 substitutes in ten days, almost 3,000 of them this week

3 min
A group of children entering the Catalònia school on the first day of the course.

BarcelonaNo respite in contagions or quarantines for schools. Today, there is a total of 120,277 teachers and students in isolation in Catalonia –almost 8% of Catalan students are forced to stay at home–, about 20,000 more than yesterday, and also more than 20,000 more positive cases than yesterday. The number of schools that have been forced to close is also growing steadily (currently seven, most of them rural schools or nurseries) as is the number of full classes that have been sent home (181, 23 more than yesterday). Management is struggling to process sick leave as there have been over 1,000 positives among teachers in the last 24 hours. Altogether it is overwhelming schools as never before.

Throughout all of last year and the first term of this year, schools had adapted to the new normal fairly well, despite the difficulties involved in managing the pandemic. But the Omicron variant, although less dangerous, has put schools on the ropes. Management has been exclusively trying to sort out quarantines, sick leaves and substitutes, as they have had to deal with more covid cases in the past ten days than in the whole of last year. In spite of the fact that these are "difficult and complex" days, Catalan Education minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray told RAC1 that "there is no risk" of closing schools in spite of the "vertiginous growth in contagions" in society, which "are reflected" in the school.

In this context, union Intersindical has sent a statement on Thursday to denounce the "extreme situation" of school boards are in, affected by the "constant changes of protocols, errors in management programmes and the Department of Education's delegation of responsibility". "Most management teams are overwhelmed, they work seven days a week, they can only work on health management and have had to put aside all other their responsibilities," they say. They say that it is "intolerable" that since January 9 the Catalan Government has changed its protocol three times and complain that "improvisation and constant modifications" have created a lot of uncertainty for families: "The management teams are the ones who have suffered the consequences, in the form of regular calls from families, also from those who do not understand or do not accept the changes and which, sometimes, reach the point of threats to report the school"

Cambray makes mistake explaining the protocol

A good proof of the general bewilderment came up while Cambray was interviewed on RAC1. The Education minister was asked to answer listeners' questions and generated confusion when he claimed a student who lives with a family member infected with covid could go to school. Shortly afterwards from the Department of Education had to clarify that it was not so and that what the protocol states is that only students who have been vaccinated can continue to attend class. If they are not immunized, they have to quarantine.

In this sense, and taking advantage of the general confusion, there are primary school families who have decided to take their children to school without having them tested after a case is detected in the class. Aware that the group will have to be confined if there are 5 or more cases, and knowing that the protocol says that the test is voluntary, they have opted not to take it. Instead, they continue to send their child to school as long as they don't have sysmptoms. With the previous protocol, every time a positive result was detected, a PCR test was performed on each of the students in the class and they were put in quarantine, but with the generalisation of vaccination, it has been decided to make compulsory quarantine more flexible. Despite this, only a third of primary school students are currently vaccinated.

"It is up to the management teams to make up for all the errors in the management systems of the different departments," the union says, citing the saturation of the Traçacovid application, the delay in prescriptions to get antigen tests, the shortage of tests in pharmacies and mistakes in the list of vaccinated students. "Each error involves a string of calls from families and added hours of work," recalls Intersindical, which asks the administration to allocate "all the resources necessary so that it does not reach a point of no return and staff starts taking leave not only because of covid but also due to stress and exhaustion."

More than 8,000 substitutes appointed in 10 days

Since schools went back after Christmas, the Department of Education has made 8,000 substitute appointments in public schools, 2,759 of them this week. Exceptionally, the Department is appointing substitutes every day, and not every two days as before. On the other hand, charter schools are finding it very difficult to find teachers who can work for a couple of weeks, as long as covid sick leave lasts. As a solution, they have asked the Generalitat to allow them hire last-year teaching students, as was done in the health sector.

Also "exceptionally", and given the enormous difficulty that many high schools have in finding vocational training teachers, for positions that are difficult to fill, they are hiring technical computer teachers who have a vocational training degree, who do not necessarily have a commitment to get a degree and who have not taken the state exam.