By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council have been economical with the truth when asked about the number of teachers who have been infected with Covid 19.

While local members of the EIS, the teachers’ union,  pictured above during a previous dispute, welcome the decision to delay the reopening of schools in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus, they remain concerned about schools being a safe place to work.

James Halfpenny, pictured right, the spokesperson for teachers locally, said today: “Despite the fact that staff in schools have been calling for this for some time, it has been frustrating to hear Johnston and the British Government and Swinney and the Scottish Government, from the comfort of their living rooms, continue to claim that schools are safe.”

He pointed out that in a recent ballot by the EIS, 91% of its teachers in West Dunbartonshire, on a 75% turnout, voted to raise a dispute against WDC for lacking a duty of care.

Mr Halfpenny added: “In the schools, teachers see that health and safety measures are not being applied effectively and, as a consequence, places them in danger.

“This frustration is compounded by WDC figures, presented to elected members, that only fifteen staff in schools have been infected between August and November 2020. Our information is that the figure is over fifty.

“Teachers clearly recognise the impact on children’s education and mental health from the lockdown particularly among the poorest children who, more often than not, struggle to get support outside of their school.

“Therefore, we believe that school staff should be a priority for the vaccine, especially those working in the most deprived areas.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday that she agreed it will be “very hard for everybody across Scotland to hear this news [of the new restrictions] and to contemplate the reality of it over the next few weeks.

She added: “I reiterate to people that we do not take these decisions lightly. We agonise over them, and we announce such restrictions only if we really feel that there is no alternative.

“Right now, the only alternative is greater loss of life and the potential for our national health service to be overwhelmed. At this point in time, speed of action is the most important factor of all.”

On the question of closing schools, she told parliament: “The decision over which we agonised most was that on the further closure of schools for the majority of pupils.

“The issue of schools, closed or open, has been contentious in recent weeks, and teachers and others have understandably raised concerns.

“However, I hope that people see from the responses and actions of the Government that we have striven, and will continue to strive, to keep schools open as normally, as often and for as long as possible. We deem today’s decision to be necessary, for the reasons that I have set out.

Pupils will have to do their work online from home until February at least.

“I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills [John Swinney] sets out for MSPs over the next couple of days the steps that are being taken to ensure that the provision of online education is as parents want it to be and that local authorities are working to ensure that it is of a consistent quality across the country.

We have already taken steps to ensure that more young people have access to digital devices, in order to make online learning more accessible to them.

“Schools and local authorities already have contingency plans in place. Advice for parents is available via the Parent Club website. Parents can also speak direct to schools for more advice.

“Glow, which is the national online learning platform, has seen a huge increase in users and usage since earlier last year, and we are working actively with local and national partners to enhance the online and remote learning options for pupils. That work will continue over the course of next week and for as long as is necessary. We want the measures to be in place for as short a period as necessary.”

No one from West Dunbartonshire Council was prepared to comment to The Democrat about the infection number for teachers, and the undemocratic SNP boycott of our news service continues.

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