The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers, has taken its stand with regards to the reopening of schools as long as the risk of contracting the virus remains this high. This scepticism at reopening schools is shared by others who equally see the risk behind taking such an action.
The Independent Schools Association openly stated that if the rate of COVID-19 infection does not go down significantly it will be impossible to open schools in September. As reported on Gwida on the 25th of August, it also expressed its expectation that the government ensures that conformity to restrictions is closely monitored. With no formal guidelines issued from MEDE, schools will have to take their own decisions on how to proceed. In fact, independent schools have been working on their own set of guidelines, as reported on Illum on the 25th August, and have changed them since the sudden spike of infections started. The ISA claimed that the official guidelines are already being discussed way too late, and appealed for immediate publication.
Other schools, which are not independent entities, have also announced their intention to start the year online until the rate of infection is more controlled, and a safer re-entry can be guaranteed. Time tables have been issued to this avail.
What the UPE finds extremely surprising, is how the other union representing teachers claimed to know nothing about the protocols mentioned by the Ministry of Education, in a statement issued on their website on the 25th August. Coming from a union which should have been present for discussions held by the working group and the amazing Think Tank the ministry bragged so much about, hearing the claim that they will not be side-lined into discussing something when all decisions have been taken in their absence, leaves a lot to ponder about.
Furthermore, it is not just UPE, schools and parents stating that re-opening schools poses grave risks on the health of our educators, the children, and society at large. Neurologist Malcolm Vella warned against taking the virus too lightly, stating in an article with the Times of Malta on the 26th August, that this virus “has killed not only vulnerable people but also young, previously healthy, individuals”.
When interviewed by the Times of Malta on the 26th August, cardiologist Melanie Zammit Burg, mentioned the repercussions on the health of those who recovered from COVID-19. The “long Covid” involved “months of ongoing fatigue, difficulty breathing, sweats, headaches, fevers, muscle aches, chest pains, neurocognitive difficulties and depression” when quoting research done in Rome. At this the UPE asks, can our educators perform their duties managing children while they have these ongoing repercussions should they have been infected and recovered? She continued by saying that research conducted by the Journal of American Medical associations, yielded evidence that 78% of the patients who recovered had “evidence of cardiac involvement”. She also stated that locally, when treating hospitalised COVID-19 patients, there were high levels of a biomarker which is released in the blood when the heart is damaged. Noticeably, she felt the need to state, “The virus cannot infect people it cannot reach so, prevention is better than cure.” Why then should our children and educators be made so reachable by the virus, when a specialised doctor is saying it is unsafe?
On Net News, on the 22nd of August, the WHO Director Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, stated that trying to reopen schools when transmission in the community is still high is very risky. She stated, that face-to-face schooling should be a privilege reserved to a moment in time in which the virus is in control and emphasized the importance of waiting for stabilization to occur: it is only then that schools should reopen with slow, cautious planning in place.
Dr. Tanya Melillo a consultant for public health, in an interview with Newsbook on the 25th August, entreated that as much as possible, everyone is to limit the number of people they meet. She insisted that COVID-19 is a real and current issue, and the more carriers one crosses, the more infections there will be. Yet, we are being expected to group children and adults from numerous households in enclosed spaces.
Despite all this, our Minister of Education feels that “all schools can reopen despite high COVID cases”, as reported by freehour.eu on August 26th. The minister has repeatedly expressed his intention, on social media, of re-opening schools come September 28th, but has issued no formal circular to Educators confirming statements made on informal platforms. It also seems that MEDE, has finally consulted the Health Authorities to compile guidelines which “will be concluded imminently”. Even if concluded this week, however, these cannot be considered final. Freehour.eu report that our Minister of Education also claimed that once they have been concluded, these guidelines will need to be discussed with stakeholders first, and then with parents and children. This process is meant to last 4 weeks.
Thus, if these guidelines are completed by the end of the week, and then discussed for 4 weeks, bringing us to the end of September, when are our schools going to be able to put every possible resource together to implement the required guidelines? MEDE is truly cooking up a recipe for disaster if all of these words continue falling on deaf ears.