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Gov’t Plans to Reopen Schools After Easter, Teachers Object to Not Being Given Vaccination Priority

Ábrahám Vass 2021.03.22.

The government has apparently decided to reopen in-person education after Easter. Public education employees’ concern and fear, however, grows as they lack proper protection while the government still refuses to prioritize their vaccination.

Hungary is having the worst period of the coronavirus. Never have so many patients with covid been in hospitals, the number of people on ventilators is at an all-time high, while the number of daily fatalities almost breaks records every day. As of now, the grim pandemic situation is showing no sign of taking a turn for the better.

At the moment, all levels of schools are closed, including kindergartens. On the other hand, daycare for those needing it is still available and nurseries remain open too.

The Orbán government, however, appears to want teachers to take on an important role in what perhaps may be dubbed as the starting point of the reopening: relaunching onsite education. Both the Prime Minister and the state secretary for public education recently declared that the government aimed to restart on-site education after Easter (starting on April 7th).

Public education employees’ protection and their prioritized vaccination has, therefore, remained on the agenda. Despite more voices, increased exposure, and examples from other European countries, the Orbán government still refuses to prioritize them in the vaccination campaign, sticking to their stance that they would be vaccinated according to their age and health conditions. However, prioritization is not something unheard of (e.g. several athletes and footballers in Hungary skipped the line) and several international bodies, along with most of the European countries, think teachers are more exposed and should therefore, be vaccinated with priority.

Even a government-founded teacher organization spoke up for vaccination prioritization, meanwhile, the Trade Union of Teachers (PSZ) said it cannot accept the government’s aforementioned reasoning. PSZ’s president once again highlighted their exposure and potential danger to children’s families in terms of being infected. Zsuzsa Szabó also said more than fifty of their colleagues so far died of coronavirus.

Earlier, the other major association had similarly advocated for prioritized vaccination. Now, the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) went even further, and, in reference to the Labor Code, one of its officials said that teachers could refuse to work if necessary safe working conditions are not provided.

Similarly, others in the sector seem to be worried too, according to tabloid Blikk’s report. A teacher in Kőbánya (Budapest’s 10th district), for example, commented that minister Kásler’s statement (which the PMO head later also confirmed) about denying them priority is the equivalent of sending them to the “slaughterhouse,” adding that fear definitely has grown among his colleagues and explaining that daycare continues to expose them despite the other closures. 

Fact

There is an increasing demand for daycare. At the moment (March 17 data), some 5,386 elementary school students (0.74%) and 22,126 kindergartners (6.86%) use the service, the Ministry of Human Capacities told Népszava. While the former number has doubled, the latter has multiplied two and half times, since March 8th (first day of school closure).

Meanwhile, Independent MP Bernadett Szél (along with her former party LMP, the now independent MP are the most vocal supporters in politics for teachers’ vaccination and increased protection) announced she would turn to the equality ombudsman on the matter, wanting in this way to achieve prioritized vaccination. Szél argues that distance learning has resulted in inequalities, as a lot of students fall short of proper access to the system due to their poor living conditions. Under these circumstances, teachers’ prioritized vaccination would have been a logical step so that schools could reopen as soon as possible, Szél explained.

featured image: soldier disinfecting a school; illustration via Zoltán Balogh/MTI