Teacher unionists have responded to the Federal Council's announcements concerning the introduction of compulsory masks in upper secondary schools throughout Switzerland and the transition for universities to distance learning from 2 November, with face-to-face classes still permitted at primary and upper secondary school level. They have been closely monitoring the health measures imposed by the Confederation and the cantons and consider it imperative to avoid the closure of schools and a return to distance learning. To this effect, the health measures in schools must be reinforced.
At its press conference on 28 October, the Swiss Federal Council adopted these new nationwide measures to counter the rapid spread of the coronavirus. The aim is to significantly reduce interpersonal contact.
The same measures should be applied across all schools, not on a case-by-case basis by canton
Through the voice of its president, Samuel Rohrbach, the Syndicat des Enseignant·es Romand·es (SER), affiliated to Education International, expressed concern that the Swiss Confederation is not imposing uniform measures across all schools and are choosing to leave the decision on which measures to introduce to individual cantons.
He also criticised the inconsistency in the measures imposed on students in Cycle 3 - those from 12 to 15. They are not allowed to gather in groups larger than 15 people, even fewer in some cantons, and must wear a mask in public, but can spend their day in class without social distancing and without a mask.
Therefore, the union is calling for what it considers to be much-needed co-ordination between the cantons on measures for compulsory schooling and are demanding that students in Cycle 3 wear masks in class.
Quarantine measures to be reviewed to maintain the quality of education
Concerning the quarantine, SER repeated its position that teachers cannot be asked to take over face-to-face teaching and maintain pedagogical continuity with quarantined students. Samuel Rohrbach highlighted that "the quality of teaching and the health of teachers is at stake. It is therefore imperative that additional resources be provided in all cantons. The use of students from training institutes must be considered and is recommended".
The union also insists that, if a student is in quarantine, they should not be asked to work on new material and be assessed on this when they return to class. "Not all students benefit from the same level of family support or have access to the same equipment when quarantined at home. It is therefore a question of avoiding inequality by concentrating on providing only pedagogical continuity for these students, continuity that is, of course, managed by people other than their form teacher", Rohrbach explained.
He concluded by stressing that "in the event of further school closures, the measures proposed in the spring of 2020 must be reintroduced. In this case too, no new material should be taught remotely. The time should be used to repeat and consolidate what has already been worked on in class.
Need for special attention to needs of pregnant teachers
The Dachverband Lehrerinnen und Lehrer Schweiz (Swiss Teachers’ Federation; LCH) welcomed the clear regulation concerning the compulsory use of face masks in classes from the upper secondary level onwards.
For LCH, this measure is justified by the current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to provide adequate protection for people belonging to high-risk groups or who live together with people belonging to high-risk groups, according to the union.
As pregnant women belong to high-risk groups, and a large proportion of teachers are women, it is particularly important to be extra careful regarding them during the pandemic. That concern led to LCH commissioning a legal report to clarify the rights of pregnant teachers, including the right to working from home.