The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers is truly concerned after having read the guidelines forwarded by the ELT Council. These same concerns were also reflected in the several calls and messages which the union has received from teachers who are afraid that their health is being put at risk by the vagueness of the guidelines provided. Three issues in the guidelines stood out as being of high risk to these teachers’ well-being: spacing, ventilation and the use of masks and/or visors.
The first issue is one of adequate spacing. In the guidelines provided by the ELT council it is said that, “The maximum number of student capacity in a classroom is to be based on an adequate distance between students whilst sitting in their chair.” This adequate spacing is not otherwise specified and is being left to the subjective determination of school owners and administration. Teachers, who are members of the UPE, have expressed their disagreement with regards to how adequate this spacing is, and feel that given the dimension of the classes they are working in, and given the current situation with the threat of COVID-19 looming over their heads, these classrooms could be classified as crowded.
The second issue that is causing concern is that of ventilation. The guidelines state, “Proper indoor ventilation is essential. In order to ensure adequate circulation of air, and to reduce the level of pathogens in the air, windows should be remained open throughout the day to allow for cross ventilation”. Many teachers have contacted the union stating that some of the classrooms they are working in have very small windows which open only in part. Other classrooms do not even have a window overlooking the outdoors, but lead onto internal corridors. Thus the teachers feel that, again, what adequate ventilation should be needs to be specified and not left to the subjective interpretation of school owners and administration.
The third issue which both the union and the members who contacted us are deeply concerned about is the issue of masks and visors. The guidelines state that, “Both students and staff are always required to wear a face mask or visor outside of the classroom. In the classroom, masks and visors do not need to be worn.” Again, given that the classroom is a confined space, how can it be acceptable not to wear a mask and/or visor when delivering a lesson? Some employers are actually discouraging the use of masks and visors in class, claiming that it would not allow for full comprehension of the spoken language. This is putting teachers in a position where they feel that they have to go against what they would normally feel is the safest option for them to safeguard their own health, and that not complying to such a request would be detrimental to their assigned workload.
All of the above concerns were heightened after The Times of Malta reported, in an article published on the 3rd of July 2020, that a “single new case of coronavirus recorded overnight has been traced to a passenger who came to Malta from overseas”.
It is also true that it was later confirmed that this passenger was on a repatriation flight, and hence was not one of the tourists who could potentially be one of the students in the classroom, but then again this has raised red flags amongst our members with regards to the potential threat they are being exposed to should the above concerns not be addressed.
In the meantime, the Union of Professional Educators has contacted the ELT Council via email and has forwarded all of these concerns together with an image of a classroom which is being deemed as having “adequate spacing” so that they can witness in first person the risks which employers are subjecting their teachers and students to.
Furthermore, it is the intention of the union to contact the OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Authority) to request that random inspections are made within schools.
The union cordially invites any members to forward any pictures of classes they are being made to work in which might demonstrate situations which might involve a health hazard. Should any of our members have any similar concerns or any other concerns which they would like to see addressed, they should not hesitate to contact the union as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling our offices on 2590 5400