September 18, 2020

Teachers try to shield themselves so that they are not held responsible for contagions in the face of a “chaotic return to school”


August progresses and, despite the pleas of the teaching staff, the “return to school” is still unknown in most of the autonomous communities. The impossibility of adapting the classrooms to an epidemiological scenario that worsens at times has made management teams and teachers choose to legally shield themselves from possible outbreaks of coronavirus.

The only ones who have made it are the centers of Andalusia, where finally the Board has exempted in writing principals and teachers from any responsibility associated with the infections. “In the first place, it would be necessary to determine where the person in question was infected, which would be very difficult and to which it should be added that zero risk, as the authorities point out, does not exist,” the statement said.

This gesture – in principle symbolic – weaves a very useful safety net for teachers against possible complaints. The legal assumption would range from a complication derived from the disease, an uncontrolled outbreak or an accident that occurred in the center, something that the unions do not rule out since this role does not guarantee a “safe presence”, as parents’ associations have been asking for months. , mothers and teachers.

For CC OO, this victory is just a patch for “a chaotic return to school”, as they define it. They criticize that the ministries have deposited in the management teams “competencies that they do not have and for which they have not been trained” and that the negotiations with the autonomies have illuminated “deficient contingency plans” so as not to have to reduce the ratio of students nor expand the teacher templates.

For now, the main security measures in schools will be to put on the mask correctly, that there are no more than 30 or 35 students for every 50 square meters – the number that has gone in crescendo since March- and appoint a COVID-19 person in charge among the teachers who will establish a health protocol in the centers and pay attention to symptoms compatible with the disease. And according to teachers, none of this guarantees a safe return to classrooms for them or for students.

The main security measures in schools will be to put on the mask properly, that there are no more than 30 or 35 students for every 50 square meters and appoint a COVID-19 person in charge among the teachers who establishes a sanitary protocol

A few weeks ago the strike drums still did not sound, but that has changed at least in the Community of Madrid, where teachers have announced mobilizations at the end of the month and even stoppages if they do not guarantee safety in the classrooms. In Andalusia, previously to the letter of the Board, some school directors and teachers resigned en bloc as a symptom of discontent. Signs that the negotiation with the majority of the autonomous communities is being as unsuccessful as the plan to curb the coronavirus in the classes.

“We already know what is going to happen: as community contact increases, infections will increase and, if it is not stopped, one of the main focuses will be the schools,” criticizes Paco García, spokesperson for Education at CC OO. The real prospect of a second wave of coronavirus is sapping the morale of teachers, who fear they will be the ones to pay the price for institutional sloppiness. “There is legal uncertainty because some counselors wash their hands and leave all responsibility in the hands of the centers,” admits García.

From CC OO they have promoted a letter for the centers to sign it and send it to the corresponding council, so that they are released from responsibilities as has happened in Andalusia. “Still, they know that our legal services are at their disposal,” repeats the spokesman. For its part, UGT trusts that the associations of fathers and mothers walk along the same lines as teachers and share the same concerns, which does not mean that “administrations must support teachers in writing and they are not doing so.”

Although they do not believe that it will be the usual thing, in the Confederation of Education Unions (STEs) they recognize that they are “at the risk of someone making a complaint” since “families have the right to demand responsibilities and take measures if no one assumes them” . José Ramón Merino, its delegate, acknowledges that the legal debate has remained in the background due to the evident health priority, but that it is also an issue that worries professionals: “Civil liability is complex and there are some judgments in this regard, although they are punctual and at most they reach the figure of the director ”, explains Merino. However, the casuistry of the virus is new and as such opens up equally unexplored possibilities.

“The responsibility of complying with the protocols and security measures corresponds to the owners of the centers, and that ownership in the case of the public belongs to the ministries,” says Sonia García on behalf of ANPE. “Another thing is that there is a breach by a specific teacher or a management team that may lead to criminal consequences in relation to COVID-19”, abounds. Despite having the theory, he acknowledges that it is much easier to find out “if a child breaks an arm due to adult negligence than if he is infected with coronavirus.” For this reason, she understands that what Andalusian teachers have requested will produce “an echo effect” that should reach the rest of the autonomous communities in order to lighten the weight that schools carry on their shoulders.

Mandatory presence, but without clear protocols

The closure of schools last March forced schools and families to adapt to a kind of abrupt home education and without the necessary means or preparation in the vast majority of cases. However, the Ministry of Education was not considered at any time to regulate the homeschooling, since the priority was to return to the classrooms in the best possible sanitary conditions. Six months later, these conditions have not arrived despite continuous cries for help from teachers.

“We all agree that presence is a key element to preserve”, they have an impact from CC OO, “but it is unfortunate that those 2,000 million euros that the Government has allocated to Education are not linked to specific objectives”, laments Paco García. In other words, “no one guarantees that the autonomies will invest it there because, in fact, it is not being done.” The spokesperson refers to the commitment to carry out works in the classrooms to guarantee the safety distance, to reduce the number of students in the classrooms -which has been increasing from 15 to 35 that some institutes already allow-, to develop a plan digital and hire more teachers. A responsibility pact that, for now, has only been fulfilled in the Valencian Community.

Sonia García, from ANPE, criticizes the publicity given to “three or four centers that do work”, since “the vast majority are going to open their schools without the necessary reforms.” “The legislative issue is important, we have that based on laws and the Ministry of Health has only produced a document with recommendations, when their thing is that everything they put in writing is mandatory ”, insists the representative.

Maribel Loranca, from UGT, believes that “schools should express their needs to the educational authorities, but never take responsibility for carrying out a contingency plan. Therefore, it does not surprise me that teachers ask to be exempted from responsibilities, because they neither should have them, nor are they trained, nor do they have the means to do so ”.

The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, has called a meeting at the end of August with all the regional representatives to address the difficult issue of education, undoubtedly one of the headaches of this summer. An appointment that “is late” for the majority of teachers’ unions, who have attended for months “to the stress, the work and the pressure on the part of the education ministries, which do nothing more than produce contradictory regulations and that forces them to review the BOE every day without time to maneuver ”.

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