Reopening of schools in the Netherlands: ETUCE Member organisation AOb demands quicker testing and better health and safety measures to protect staff and students and keep schools open

15 September 2020

The COVID 19 outbreak is a public health crisis quite different than anything Europe has faced for many years. As education personnel and their trade unions grapple with the outbreak, we are supporting and informing member organisations in any way we can.

As schools across Europe are reopening following the summer holiday and closures at the height of the COVID-19 outbreaks, education trade unions across the continent are striving to support their affiliates and advocate for a safe and healthy return to school. In the Netherlands, where schools have reopened to their full capacity, it is reported that 90% of secondary school staff fears infection. ETUCE Member organisation AOb is working tirelessly to advocate for strong protective measures ensuring the safety of the staff and students.  

In the Netherlands, despite the tremendous resilience of education personnel during the pandemic and their efforts to innovate and adapt to make online education possible, it was evident that online education should remain exceptional and does not substitute traditional face-to-face classroom interaction. The Dutch Member organisation AOb supports the goal of keeping schools open, a sentiment shared by teachers as 86% of those in a risk group went back to school. The union nevertheless stresses that more measures ought to be in place to protect students and staff and maintain schools open. A recent survey conducted among AOb affiliates highlights that 74% of respondents found it impossible to socially distance within their school, while 17% of schools have known COVID-19 cases. This alarming number can be explained by inadequate health and safety measures: AOb indeed criticises the difficulty to properly ventilate classrooms and ensure the safety of all, as well as the low testing capacities. AOb also demands that teaching staff be given priority access to tests, in order to limit the absence of teachers while they are waiting to receive tests and test results, as the country is already facing teacher shortages. 

The reopening of schools is a challenging exercise, allowing on the one hand a return to a sense of normality for students and the whole school community, and, on the other hand, safeguarding the health and safety of school staff, students and families to avoid a spike in COVID-19 infections. Throughout this crisis, as highlighted in the statement on the road to recovery from COVID-19, ETUCE has called for expert-based, responsible and adequate health and safety measures, designed with the consultation of education personnel and their representatives.

Looking ahead, the ETUCE continues to stand with its member organisations in their efforts to facilitate the recovery of the education sector and their efforts for healthy, safe, and inclusive schools.

Read the full ETUCE statement The Road to Recovery from the COVID-19 Crisis.