Teachers in Aberdeen could stage a walkout after their request for days of remote learning to prevent the spread of Covid-19 was rejected.
The move was designed to prevent coronavirus spreading further ahead of the festive period, and to prevent youngsters and their teachers having to self-isolate over Christmas.
However, local authority chiefs threw out the proposal – and union leaders are now preparing to begin a dispute on health and safety grounds.
Aberdeen City branch secretary Ron Constable refused to rule out the possibility of school staff taking industrial action.
Teachers in Aberdeenshire Council are still in dialogue with the local authority and are not currently considering a dispute.
But their colleagues in the city are now preparing to ballot members on the possibility of a walkout.
“We sent a letter to Aberdeen City Council setting out why it is important we move to remote learning for a few days at the start and end of the Christmas holidays,” Mr Constable said.
“It’s about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of young learners and school staff.
“Our worry is that if we keep people in schools until the last day, which is the 18th, that may cause additional cases. There have been a lot of cases recently and a lot of children self-isolating.
“We do not want the holidays to be extended. What we want is a two-day ‘firebreak’ at either end of the holidays where remote learning is used to minimise the chance of staff and pupils’ holidays being wrecked by having to self-isolate.
“We made that representation to the local authority and it was rejected. Teachers will be very angry about that.
“School staff have had to put up with a long, hard session with a lot of disruption. They are exhausted, and the fact their holidays may now be disrupted by having to self-isolate is an added stress.
“They will be extremely disappointed that the common-sense approach we have suggested has not been taken on board.
“There is an option on the table for moving to dispute on health and safety grounds, because Aberdeen City Council has a duty of care to its employees.
“That is for our members to decide and it is very much under consideration. We cannot rule out going to a consultative ballot on possible industrial action.”
Last week’s Scottish Government decision not to either extend the holidays or implement remote learning at the start and end of the holidays led to accusations ministers were “ignoring” the health and wellbeing of staff.
Now the EIS claims the decision to keep schools open is a political move, and not one based on public health data.
“We feel the Scottish Government has unfairly put pressure on local authorities to keep schools open, even when it is not safe to do so,” Mr Constable said.
“We are repeatedly told school is a safer place for pupils than being out in the community – but out in the community, you do not get hundreds of children in one place at a time.
“There is no better place for the virus to wreak havoc than a classroom full of 30 pupils.
“The Deputy First Minister starts every speech by thanking school staff for their efforts. However, that is hollow rhetoric because in the next sentence he says schools must stay open.
“Even when schools are in level four areas the Scottish Government is wanting to keep them open. It is a clear political move designed to win popularity with the voters.”
Teachers in Glasgow are already taking part in a ballot which could see them take action.
However, a spokeswoman for Aberdeen City Council insisted the authority would be unable to introduce remote learning days unless public health officials give the green light.
She said: “The Deputy First Minister’s letter [clarifying there would be no changes to holiday dates] makes clear that there is no mechanism to make changes to the school Christmas holiday unless public health advise otherwise.
“Local authorities are duty-bound to follow Scottish Government guidance and provide a full 190 days of education.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We recognise that this is an anxious time for teachers, families and pupils and we are grateful to all school staff for their dedication and hard work during a very challenging time.
“The safety guidance on reducing the risks of coronavirus in schools includes robust measures to help protect teachers, pupils and the whole school community. The Health and Safety Executive provided very positive feedback on the way schools are implementing that guidance and we are monitoring the situation closely, along with emerging scientific evidence.
“There is no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children and ONS data has shown no evidence of any difference between the positivity rates of teachers and other school staff, relative to other worker groups of a similar age.
“We continue to have discussions with teachers, trades unions, local authorities, parents and young people as we move through the coronavirus crisis.”