While teachers in other countries have had similar concerns about risk, Italy stands out with the presence of the oldest teaching staff in the EU. An OECD report released on Tuesday shows that more than half of primary and secondary teachers are over 50 and 17% are over 60.
At the same time, around 13,000 teaching and non-teaching staff will not immediately return to school after testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies as part of a general screening carried out last week, leaving many schools behind. understaffed.
Concerns among older teachers and those with health issues, especially those working in elementary schools, have grown amid confusion over the rules for Covid-19 ahead of the new school year. Nearly 15,000 of the more than 35,500 deaths attributed to Covid-19 since the start of the Italian pandemic have been in people aged 50 to 79, according to a report by the country’s National Institute of Health.
However, the most recent circular from the Ministry of Health does not identify age as a risk factor for education during the pandemic.
“We are very, very worried,” said Valentina Balsamo, 61, who teaches at Nicolò Garzilli Primary School in Palermo. “I understand that schools have to reopen, but as a teacher I don’t feel safe. Teachers will have blood draws and tests, but children will not. Primary school is based on direct physical contact with children. It won’t be easy to monitor social distancing. ”
Teachers will need to wear masks at all times, as will students over six years old. The classrooms have been furnished with desks for one person and placed 1 meter apart. Staff and children will have their temperature taken upon arrival, while several hand gel dispensers will be placed around school buildings. Those who have been in close contact with a student or teacher who tests positive for Covid-19 will be immediately quarantined.
“I’m going to have a serological test soon, but we all know I should be tested every day to make sure I haven’t contracted the virus,” said Dora Novara, 66, who teaches at an elementary school. . “Considering my age, I will also get the seasonal flu shot, but I can’t control what my students do when they come home from school.
Meanwhile, hundreds of teachers with health problems or who are immunocompromised recently wrote letters to school authorities asking them to be excused from the service.
The most common diseases are of cardiac, oncological or respiratory origin.
“There are a lot of colleagues who have these diseases who want to be with the children and return to work,” said Maddalena Gissi, general secretary of the teachers’ union Cisl. “And they want to be able to do it remotely and teach in smaller groups… but it’s hard to get away from young kids.”
To be exempted from school, a teacher with an underlying illness must be certified by two doctors as being at risk. According to a recent opinion from the Ministry of Health, only people with very serious illnesses will be exempt from working. If they can’t be in a classroom, they may be offered other roles that they can play remotely or from home, such as working on a school project or doing administrative tasks.
“We know there are many cases of teachers with health problems who are afraid,” Gissi added. “But the circular from the Ministry of Health made it clear: doctors must certify the absence, it is not the teacher who decides whether they are vulnerable or not.”
But teachers are struggling to get certificates from their doctors. “For days I try to contact my doctors to prepare an official statement, but it’s impossible,” said Sabrina Leo, 51, a preschool teacher who suffers from emphysema, a respiratory disease.
Respiratory complications were responsible for nearly 95.3% of deaths attributed to Covid-19, according to data from the National Institute of Health.
“My future is not clear,” added Leo. “What I do know is that if I contract coronavirus my chances of recovery are slim, very slim.”
Silvia, 44, who suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease, said she wanted to return to work at her high school in the central Lazio region, but was afraid. “Not just for me, but for my parents, who are elderly. They come as much as possible to my home to help me, that’s what worries me. I worked with my illness before Covid and all I want now is to come home safe – I want the right to education to be considered alongside the rights to health and work.