The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

UPE calls on government to heighten protocols for physical reopening of schools

Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 15:48 Last update: about 6 days ago

The Union of Professional Educators (UPE) has called on the authorities to heighten and improve social distancing measures and contact tracing procedures as well as focus on a prompt revision of the risk assessment with regards to the physical re-opening of schools. 

This comes following Prime Minister Robert Abela together with Deputy Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci addressed a press conference, in which they announced that schools will physically reopen their doors as from next week. 


Prior to the conference, the UPE chief Graham Sansone, on Monday said that given how Covid-19 cases have decreased, he would be comfortable with school being given the green light to physically reopen. 

The UPE has been considering the upcoming physical re-opening of schools very thoroughly and has already forwarded its recommendations to the Ministry of Education in this regard which primarily focused on heightening protocols and measures in schools. 

In a statement, UPE said that emphasis was made on the need to review social distancing procedures, especially when it comes to LSEs who by virtue of the nature of their roles end up having to disregard social distancing measures to ensure that their students fully benefit from the educational process. 

“While not refuting the undeniable scientific evidence behind the re-opening of schools, we still have our reservations given that despite the promise of heightened measures, announced during the press conference held this morning, the Ministry of Education has, until the time of writing, not been forthcoming with guidelines on measures within schools will be heightened, nor has it given an indication on how these heightened measures will be implemented,” the union said. 

It added that “this is yet again placings our schools in a position where they have a very narrow timeframe in which to adequately prepare for added restrictions or strategies.” 


With regards to protocols, the union said it is expecting to see them revised to reflect the reality of the presence of the variants of the virus which have reached the island, and especially where breaks are concerned. 

“It should be a priority to stagger these rest periods to avoid any mixing of bubbles and any unnecessary, lengthy and unregulated contact between members of the same bubble,” UPE said. 

The union is also expecting to see, as per union recommendation, a significant revision of the duration of contact required to qualify for quarantine, given that the U.K. variant can be up to 80% more infectious than the original Coronavirus. 

Covid-19 Vaccines 

When it comes to the vaccination process, the union expressed its satisfaction that well over 80% of educators have been vaccinated with at least one jab. 

“The unvaccinated portion of the educational sector also needs to be addressed as promptly as possible,” UPE said.

Despite this positive vaccine roll out, the union expressed its disappointment when receiving reports from its members, claiming that following a period of illness or quarantine, those who have had to forfeit the possibility of receiving the vaccine, were not subsequently offered a second set of appointments. 

UPE remarked that “the obvious lack of proactivity, on the behalf of the Ministry, in this regard can by no means be condoned.” 

Contact Tracing 

With regards to contact tracing, the union said that is expecting to see a substantial improvement in the process of contact tracing, where such activity should not exceed the 24 to 48 hours before implementation. 

“The system has been blatantly inefficient over the past months, and the government needs to ensure that there is no repeat of the situation whereby delays reported by members reached up to a week, leaving large numbers of members of staff and students at risk of contracting the virus.” 

UPE also emphasised that it will hold a zero-tolerance attitude with reports, coming from any of its members, where schools accept students with any form of symptoms which may reflect those exhibited by a person infected with Covid-19. 

“Given the infectivity rate of the variant even those suffering of allergies, or who have a certificate which declares the student as being fit for school despite persisting symptoms, should be kept at home as preventive measure to safeguard the whole school community,” the union said. 

Lastly, UPE remarked that “it will not hold back from issuing directives should the situation arise where its members are deemed as being potentially at risk of contracting Covid-19 for any reason whatsoever.”

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