[Updated] Noting that the Ministry asked staff to report for Covid testing on January 1 while the B.U.T. proposed to do it on January 4 — saying that teachers are not “obligated to perform any work-related duties before Jan 4” and a “test on Jan 1 to receive students on Jan 5 gives false security” — the Union has called on members to “not attend the January 1, 2022 testing site.”
In announcing the schedule yesterday, the Government said, “Given that school commences on January 4th for staff and January 5th for students, the Molecular Diagnostic Lab [MDL] determined the testing schedule for the nearly 5,400 staff and students to have access to testing within the required 3-day period. These dates were sent to staff, parents and guardians earlier this week so they know in advance when to schedule their testing appointment.”
In a statement today, a Bermuda Union of Teachers [BUT] spokesperson said, “The Executive Committee of the Bermuda Union of Teachers wishes to inform our members of a decision post an emergency meeting last Friday. As you know, the Department of Education is directing all staff to report for pre-return to school testing on January 1, 2022.
“As shared in correspondence sent from the Union Office, the BUT proposed a pre-return to school testing regime that is in line with our Collective Bargaining Agreement, as the current schedule infringes upon the rights of our members.
“This Union shared with the Ministry and Department of Education that we are willing to provide additional administrative assistance and resources to ensure testing could occur on January 4, with results processed for the next day. All professional development for January 4 should remain remote, as is custom and practice since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Neither the Department, nor the Ministry of Education engaged the Union in creating a pre-return to school testing schedule. Our proposal for staff testing on January 4, which allows results to be returned for January 5, does not impact teaching and learning. We are also aware that the School Principal’s recommendations for the pre-testing schedule were denied.
“Unfortunately, the Department and the Ministry of Education have missed another opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders. As communicated to both the Department and the Ministry of Education, no teacher is obligated to perform any work-related duties before January 4, 2022. Additionally, no teacher is to be penalized for not submitting to any demands of the Department of Education outside of paid working hours [including preparing packets, downloading of workshop material, or attendance to mandatory pre-entry testing].
“Therefore, we are calling members to stand in solidarity and not fulfill any demands by the Department of Education during the Christmas break. Do not attend the January 1, 2022 testing site, do not interrupt your family time to answer any emails, calls, or perform any tasks requested by the Department of Education.
“We note that, during the Government’s Technical Briefing on Friday, December 17th, Minister Wilson said of our current situation: ‘We’ve been at this for 20 months and we’ve maintained that…we have to get to a point in our life where we are living with Covid. We have to live with this. This is here to be with us and walk within our presence for some considerable time. And to do that, we need to ensure that we reiterate the messaging to the public that this is about personal responsibility. The Government can’t be all and do all.’
“This Union completely agrees with this sentiment, and we posit that, by mandating workers to test on days off 20 months into a pandemic, we will set a dangerous precedent to continue in years to come. This does not demonstrate moving beyond the pandemic. Taking personal and collective responsibility means working together, not dictating.
“With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the most responsible thing for staff is to ‘know before you go’ as per Minister Wilson. Therefore, taking a PCR test on Jan 1st to receive students on January 5th gives false security. Rapid antigen, or PCR, testing on January 4th provides more reliable, more secure data.
“It is important to note that this Union supports the efforts of all stakeholders in their attempts to keep our schools safe as we are still amid an active pandemic. However, we will not support the expectation that our members give up 2-3 hours on their holiday when there are other viable solutions readily available.
“In closing, we encourage our members, as well as the wider community, to remain vigilant in these precarious times. Practice good hand hygiene, wear your mask, and maintain social distance as much as practicable. In solidarity.”
Update 5.30pm: A Government spokesperson said, “Public school teachers and staff will have two additional days for pre-return testing. The initial date of Saturday, January 1st has been expanded to include Sunday, January 2nd and Monday, January 3rd 2022.
“The Department of Education initially announced that all teachers and staff will test only on Saturday, January 1st 2022. However, the testing schedule for teachers and staff has now been expanded to include Sunday, January 2nd and Monday, January 3rd. The full testing schedule for teachers and staff is as follows:
Saturday, January 1, 2022
- Teachers and Staff Only
- Bermuda College Cafeteria 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
- Bull’s Head Car Park from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Sunday, January 2, 2022
- Teachers and Staff Only
- Bermuda College Cafeteria 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Bull’s Head Car Park 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Monday, January 3, 2022
- Teachers and Staff Only
- Bermuda College Cafeteria 10:00 am – 12:30 pm
“School teachers and staff should note that the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory [MDL] has provided two links to book a pre-return to school testing appointment – one for use by Teachers/Staff here; and, another for use by students here.
“School teachers and staff are encouraged to book their testing appointment as soon as possible, and prior to the day on which they choose to be tested. School teachers and staff should also note that the testing window on Monday January 3rd is at the Bermuda College Cafeteria only, with a cut-off time at 12:30pm.
“The booking form for testing will be active effective today, December 20, 2021.
“The Department of Education is emphasizing the importance of having schools open for in-person learning on Wednesday, January 5th 2022. Therefore, all school staff are urged to follow the schedule provided by the MDL and test on the allocated days using the separate link for teachers and staff.
Minister of Education Diallo Rabain said: “We are working hard to ensure schools are open for our students on January 5th and understand the shared sacrifice we all have to make. It is hoped these additional days will provide adequate options for staff.”