A phased return of pupils to school is the Scottish Government’s top priority but she indicated vulnerable teachers should not be forced back to class before they are vaccinated, said Nicola Sturgeon.
The First Minister announced on Tuesday, February 2, that P1 to P3 pupils could return to school from February 22.
In addition, Sturgeon said she expects 5 to 8% of secondary pupils to be back in school from that date in order to carry out practical work required by the SQA exam board.
But during First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie warned the plans “will make adequate social distancing difficult or impossible”.
He said the announcement creates “significant challenges for school staff”, and asked whether the First Minister could reassure vulnerable teachers they will not have to return before they have had the jab.
Sturgeon responded: “Yes, I would expect local authorities – who are the employers of teachers – to make sure that the safety of vulnerable teachers is absolutely top of the agenda.
“We will not compromise the safety of teachers, other school staff or young people in schools.”
Raising concerns about the workload of teachers, Harvie added: “Teachers can’t reasonably be expected to teach some pupils in person and others online at the same time, so they need to know what the arrangements will be and what will be put in place, and this challenge is exacerbated by unequal access to home learning for pupils where digital access is a challenge.”
Sturgeon said there are about 70,000 families who do not have access to a suitable device for remote learning or an internet connection, but the Scottish Government has committed funding to make them available.
Stressing the importance of schools reopening, she added: “I’ve got huge sympathy for the difficulties teachers face, just as I do for people working in other roles during this pandemic.
“But all of us, I think, have got a duty to operate right now and to take decisions to get through this pandemic in a way that prioritises the health, the wellbeing and the development of our young people that has been hugely impacted.
“Getting them back into face-to-face education in schools, operating normally with a peer group and with their friends – I don’t think that there’s a greater priority in the midst of this pandemic than that right now.
“And that’s why the Scottish Government is going to do everything we can to accelerate as fast as safety – and let me emphasise that point – as safety allows.”