Schools’ return at risk as teachers threaten strike over “essential questions”

As over 1.6 million school children prepare for a return to school in Portugal next week, STOP – the syndicate of all teachers – is threatening strike action unless “essential questions” on safety receive answers.

They say there are two particularly that DGS health authorities are dodging.

The first is the “scientific basis” behind the guidelines that pupils can be placed “within a metre distance of each other in the classroom”, as opposed to the two-meters stipulated in everyday contact elsewhere.

The second has to do with staff in the at risk groups – whether they will be able to take time off, and whether their absence will be filled by replacements.

Says the group, if these questions aren’t answered by Thursday (September 10), they’ll be launching a pre-strike warning to blight the first few days of term.

STOP’s national coordinator André Pestana explains: “On August 5 we asked the DGS (health directorate), the health and education ministries, for the scientific basis for guidelines that say there should be a minimum of two meters between people but in school this distance can be one meter. We have schools where pupils will be sitting side-by-side”.

He said his members think the shortened distance is “dangerous” and have not received any kind of reassurance to the contrary.

As to the extra cleaning needed this year in schools, STOP’s concerns are that janitors (or ‘operational assistants’) were in short supply before the outbreak of Covid-19.

“We’ve received information from schools that we will actually have less operational assistants than last year”, he told reporters. Thus the heightened feelings of concern – despite findings nationally and internationally that the risk of school age children passing the virus on to adults, or indeed their own contemporaries, is vastly reduced to that of adults passing it on to adults.

Meantime, the manual sent out to schools last week on how to ‘control transmission’ of Covid-19 stresses that schools will only be closed in the event of what health authorities deem ‘elevated risk’.

Any case of infection needs to see ‘contact tracing’ and subsequent testing in place “preferably within 12-hours”.

An ‘outbreak’ will be declared when there are two confirmed cases in a school. In this eventuality, measures of specific classes may be sent home for 14-days, or it may be that specific areas will be temporarily closed.

Says the document: “Only as a final resort will the school close”.

If this happens, children would return to ‘distance learning’ which wasn’t the success that education authorities had hoped it would be but did keep most children ‘ticking along’ in one way or other until the summer break.

Elsewhere in Europe schools have already been seen to close abruptly due to infections, thus it is really anyone’s guess how this new school year will develop.

“Prepare for the worst, work for the best” remains the motto as children are due to start filing into classrooms up and down the country from Monday – all those over the age of 10 (or going into the 5th year) duty-bound to be wearing masks for the whole day.

The cost to the education ministry in masks and other protective equipment this month has been given so far as “around seven million euros”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com