|High school seniors take a mock College Scholastic Ability Test at Honam Jeil High School in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Teachers are struggling with unexpected responsibilities as they are being pushed to perform the role of quarantine official in schools, according to a teachers' union, Thursday.
With high school seniors returning to school and juniors scheduled to follow in the coming days, teachers are complaining about an increased workload as they have to check the temperature of their students and ensure they practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their classrooms.
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) issued a statement claiming the government should make it clear to teachers that taking protective measures for students should not be left to them alone.
"Schools cannot be the frontline of quarantine measures, and teachers can never be quarantine officers taking all the responsibility," KTU spokesman Jung Hyun-jin said.
Jung said the union agreed to the principle that teachers should do their best by educating students on quarantine guidelines, but the education authorities should dispatch professional personnel who can be exclusively in charge of the task.
Koo Sun-young, 34, a homeroom teacher at a high school in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, said the role of homeroom teachers used to be limited to guidance for daily life in schools, but now they have to take the added responsibility of the health of their pupils.
"Teachers now should be in charge of any issues related to COVID-19. Many of my peers even worry about the possibility of mass infections in classrooms and they are afraid of being blamed if anything happens," Koo said
The unclear guidelines coming down to schools from the education authorities were also mentioned as a source of confusion for teachers. As the COVID-19 situation varies from region to region, the education authorities said they would only provide overall guidelines, and schools were being advised to choose the most appropriate measures in accordance with their circumstances.
The KTU said however, such "flexible" guidelines makes it more difficult to address safety concerns in classrooms.
Kim Ji-hak, chief representative of the Korean Health Teachers Association who is also serving as a nurse-teacher at Siheung Eunhaeng Middle School in Gyeonggi Province, said there are no detailed guidelines for students who show symptoms of the coronavirus as well as other students who might have had contact with them.
"In Seoul, if there is a student showing symptoms, they will be immediately sent to screening centers by a 119 ambulance to have a virus test. If the student tests positive, the teacher and other students must just wait for the epidemiological investigation, and then go home by themselves," Kim said.
Kim said the government should come up with measures to transport the teachers and students who might have been in contact with the infected students, not only for schools in Seoul but also schools in other provinces.
While health and education officials had worried that a new infection cluster linked to nightclubs in Seoul earlier this month would spark a new outbreak of COVID-19, newly reported coronavirus cases in Korea slowed again Thursday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 12 new infections Wednesday, bringing the total to 11,122. Of them, 10 were local infections.
The number of cases tied to bars and clubs in Itaewon reached 201 the same day, while the cases have not evolved into explosive outbreaks mainly due to the government's efforts to flatten the virus curve with mass testing. So far, 788,684 people in Korea have been tested, and 10,135 patients have been released after recovery. One new fatality was reported Wednesday, raising the death toll to 264.