The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers is the first to hope that schools will re-open in September and that this nightmare is left behind us all. The union fully realises that students of all ages are feeling the impact of this imposed social withdrawal, and is fully aware that the negative impact that prolonged closure will have on their academic progress might be irreversible. It also, however, realises that should the circumstances not be propitious, taking a step in that direction bodes no good in the long-term. The union thus has its reservations on this insistence on the part of the government to open schools and keep the educational system rolling, should the numbers continue to rise at the rate at which they are currently doing.
Back in March, the Prime Minister and the Superintendent of Public Health set a benchmark in terms of numbers for school closure. On the first day of school closure, Friday the 13th of March 2020, we had 12 cases, all imported. This number is pittance by comparison with the 486 active cases on the island registered on the day of writing this article. Thus, the union asks, why is it that Skola Sajf has not been closed? Where does the benchmark currently stand when it comes to possible school closure? The union feels that the original benchmark is way far behind us and considers this action to be of utmost importance to public health.
Last week, the union had a meeting at MEDE with the Permanent Secretary Dr Frank Fabri, during which the reopening of schools was discussed at length. Furthermore, it continued following communications from the government and pondered its adamant stand on reopening schools on the 28th of September 2020. The union did not stop there: it took note of the concerns of parents and members who contacted the union to voice their concerns, and consulted with other associations representing vulnerable children. What surfaced contrasted deeply with what the government is saying. All of the people the union spoke to, expressed a deep fear of what the numbers will be like once the children start school, and social distancing will inevitably be relaxed.
Given all of the above the UPE began working on a strategic plan aiming to ensure the safe reopening of schools, bearing in mind its vulnerable members, as well as those children who fall within the vulnerable portion of society. These proposals will be forwarded to the government for perusal once the exercise is complete.
As things stand, the government is using the parameters of Skola Sajf as the model to follow for the re-opening of schools. The union, however, feels that this should not be the case, as Skola Sajf caters for much smaller numbers and social distancing can be guaranteed much more easily than in a normal school environment. The virus still insinuated itself in this “controlled” environment, so what are we to expect should the numbers in schools expand tenfold? How are our vulnerable educators going to be safeguarded? How are our vulnerable children going to be protected? How can we veritably look at all these people in the eye and state that their health and safety is going to be guaranteed?
To conclude, the UPE feels that reopening schools in September, given the current scenario, is an unrealistic proposition which needs to be reconsidered, and not promoted.