An Aberdeen teachers’ union has slammed “ludicrous” claims staff are safe from Covid-19 in schools – and invited public health officials to visit classrooms.
The EIS union – which could bring its members out on strike if they are forced back into the classroom amid a post-Christmas spike in coronavirus cases – said staff are being put at risk by being exposed to high numbers of people.
Scottish Government ministers have turned down the union’s request for days of remote learning around the holidays to curb the spread of the virus, even though relaxation of the rules is expected to lead to a rise in cases.
Holyrood education minister John Swinney has said on several occasions there is no increased risk to staff – and public health chiefs have advocated keeping pupils in the classroom.
In a report to MSPs published last month by the Covid-19 advisory sub-group on education and children’s issues, it stated that schools are a more controlled environment than the wider community, with less risk of the virus spreading, and that it is better to keep pupils contained in one place.
Officials also assert there is no higher risk of contracting Covid-19 in schools than there is anywhere else.
But Aberdeen City EIS secretary Ron Constable blasted the claims and said teachers’ health is being put at risk.
“Something that has really angered teachers is public health advice which said schools are a more controlled environment than the wider community, and saying it is much better to keep children contained in schools,” he said.
“You have to wonder if the people coming up with this advice have ever been in a school and have seen what goes on.
“Pupils move through the community to get to and from school, and then there are hundreds of them all in close proximity to one another. That is a perfect environment for the virus to spread.
“There is not a higher risk of them picking up Covid in the community than there is in school. That is nonsensical because the schools serve those communities. The idea the infection rate isn’t as high in schools as it is elsewhere is simply ludicrous.”
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Mr Constable said teachers have to deal with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces with little physical distancing – and urged health bosses to visit classrooms to see for themselves.
“People who were previously shielding and those who have weakened immune systems should be working from home, certainly in the higher levels of restrictions, yet they are expected to come to work and put themselves in a vulnerable position,” he said.
“Staff are seeing one rule for society, with lots of mitigations put in place to stop the spread of the virus-like the closing of non-essential retail, and one rule for them with very few measures.
“They are expected to carry on as normal.
“We would like public health officials to go into schools and have a look at the reality of what teachers are having to deal with on a daily basis.
“They should come into schools and see exactly what happens.”
Last week the Evening Express revealed city teachers were preparing for a possible walkout on health and safety grounds.
Meetings between education bosses and union chiefs are scheduled for late in the Christmas holidays to discuss next steps – and it is understood strike action is still a possibility.
A Scottish Government spokesman 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.
“Reports published by Public Health Scotland on the impact of coronavirus on school staff and young people since August provide a range of new data that collectively shows that schools remain safe and underline the crucial health, wellbeing and educational benefits of children and young people being in school.
“The guidance on reducing the risks of Covid-19 in schools includes robust measures to help protect teachers, pupils and the whole school community. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and listen to any concerns.”