Local teachers will not have to carry out coronavirus contact tracing over the Christmas holidays amid mounting pressure for early school closures.
Education leaders in Tayside and Fife have insisted schools will not take an extended break on December 18, despite fears teachers may be required to work on Christmas Day.
A spate of schools across the four local authorities have recorded new virus cases, including five at Grove Academy in Broughty Ferry.
Calls for blended learning have increased as Fife’s EIS branch ballots members over potentially entering a dispute with their employer.
Councillor Kathleen Leslie, Conservative education lead on Fife Council, said the move to online learning was “justifiable” following discussions with unions, teachers and parents.
She said: “Contact tracing activities may go back as far as seven days and therefore, by schools closing to on-campus learning at close of business on Friday December 18 the risk of transmission is minimised.
“We are aware of the relaxation of restrictions during the holiday period and if pupils are mixing in the school environment it is reasonable to conclude that the possibility of infection may occur on December 21 or 22 and thus a pupil or teacher may still be asymptomatic by Christmas Day when next to a vulnerable family member.”
Teachers have been let down time and time again throughout this pandemic.”
Mark Ruskell, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife
Mark Ruskell, Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “Teachers have been let down time and time again throughout this pandemic, and Fife Council’s refusal to consider the union’s reasonable proposals heading into the winter break may prove to be the final straw.
“The Scottish Government bears much of the responsibility for this situation and it should change guidance urgently to require school closure flexibility over Christmas and New Year, protecting staff and allowing families to enter their bubbles earlier.”
Support to give teachers a “break” over holidays
Despite increasing calls for a Christmas extension, Shelagh McLean, Fife’s head of education, confirmed schools will close as planned on December 22.
She said: “This has been an incredibly challenging year and I know everyone will be looking forward to a well-deserved break over the holidays.
“Public health teams will continue the test and trace process throughout the holidays and schools will support that process again in the New Year.”
It is understood Fife secondary school pupils will be sent home with information on classroom seating plans to assist tracers in identifying close contacts.
Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross councils said their festive period will commence on December 23.
However teachers will not have to bear the brunt of contact tracing if pupils or staff are identified as close contacts in schools.
Kelly McIntosh, director of education at Angus Council, said support is in place to ease the disruption for teachers.
“We met with the local public health team to put arrangements in place that will ensure no member of school staff will be involved in contact tracing during the festive holiday,” she said.
“The public health advice we have received is to keep schools open as planned because the controlled environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.”
A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “Arrangements are being put in place which will involve officers from the council’s children and families service and NHS Tayside’s public health team should coronavirus contact tracing be needed in the holiday period for any school related cases.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We want teachers and school leaders to have a break over the festive period, and that’s why Public Health Scotland and the national contact tracing centre are offering support to local authorities to deal with contact tracing issues to minimise the need for school leaders to deal with them over the holidays.”
Parents consider blended learning move
Some parents are considering taking their child out of school early to ensure the festivities are not disrupted.
Janis McCulloch, spokeswoman for 5050 in schools campaign, relayed calls for a national strategy for online learning to be rolled out to isolating pupils.
She said: “We know that some families do want to move to blended learning from December 18 to enable them to have some isolation of students before households start mixing on December 23.
“We view this as a personal family decision. However, not all families will be able to accommodate a move to learning at home at such short notice.”
Mary O’Connor, who has two children at primary school in Dundee and two at Baldragon Academy, said she has made the decision not to visit family so close to a vaccine roll-out.
However she said: “That’s our personal situation and I know for a lot of families in Dundee it’ll be different. It’s a decision every family has to consider for themselves.
“I don’t know how much work will be missed if they’re not there though, given it’s the week leading up to Christmas.”
Schools in Wales will switch to remote learning from December 14 and English schools will close early for an inset day on December 18, allowing “six clear days before Christmas Eve”.