SPANISH SCHOOLS

Sudden call for Covid-19 antibody testing creates long lines of teaching staff on Madrid streets

Teachers and unions heap criticism on regional government for summoning them on a 24-hour notice and for asking a private company to handle the procedure

School staff wait in line outside La Paloma school in Madrid on Wednesday morning for their coronavirus antibody tests.
School staff wait in line outside La Paloma school in Madrid on Wednesday morning for their coronavirus antibody tests.Lucía González

With barely hours of notice, teachers and other staff from schools in the Madrid region were yesterday given appointments to undergo coronavirus antibody tests ahead of the new academic year, which is due to start next week. The result was chaotic scenes, with thousands of people waiting in line on the streets of Madrid today, with crowds forming and little social distancing possible. By midday, the crowds and long lines had prompted the regional education department to cancel the remainder of the day’s tests at one of the centers.

School principals began to receive emails that instructed teaching, administrative and other support staff from the region’s schools to go to one of five centers for a voluntary antibody test between today and Monday. Some teachers didn’t get news of their appointment today until well into Tuesday evening.

There are thousands of us, it’s crazy to bring us all together
Esteban Álvarez, the president of the Madrid Association of High School Principals (Adimad)

What’s more, staff were surprised to see that a private company, Ribera Salud, had been charged with carrying out the testing rather than the regional government relying on the public health system. “This is the last straw,” said Esteban Álvarez, the president of the Madrid Association of High School Principals (Adimad).

The testing is one of the new measures for the return to school that have been introduced by the regional government of premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso. On August 25, the Popular Party (PP) politician announced that 100,000 tests would be carried out on staff and students over the new school year.

Adimad welcomed the initiative, but has criticized the who, when and how. The association believes that these tests should be carried out on a staggered basis and in public healthcare centers, and not now, when teachers and other staff alike are rushing to prepare for the new academic year. “There are thousands of us, it’s crazy to bring us all together,” says Álvarez, adding that the plan is “another example of the improvisation and lack of planning” on the part of the regional government. “In other regions the start of the year has been delayed by several days in order to be able to reorganize the groups and spaces, prepare the schools and to carry out the tests,” he adds.

In the case of primary schools, according to sources from the sector, the staff from as many as 50 centers have been given appointments for the tests in half-hour slots. The result on Wednesday was a line nearly a kilometer long outside La Paloma high school in Madrid, made up of teachers and other staff awaiting their test.

In that line was Laura Gómez, a special education teacher at a school in Vicálvaro. She explains that she was summoned to appear at 9.30am today in an email she received late last night. “I’ve been here since 9am and I’ve barely moved 200 meters in an hour-and-a-half,” she says. “I’ve lost a very important morning of work,” she complains.

Elena Sánchez, from the Cortes de Cádiz primary school in Sanchinarro, arrived an hour early given the chaos that she expected to find. “The line is impossible, and social distancing is not being observed,” she complains. “There must be a better way of doing this.”

An email sent to staff came with an Excel spreadsheet attached that contained the personal data of 16,721 colleagues

Each person being tested has to fill out a form that authorizes Ribera Salud to use their personal data. Many teachers have also criticized a potential violation of data-protection laws, given that the email that they received came with an Excel spreadsheet attached that contained the personal data of 16,721 staff given appointments, including their names, surnames, place of work, gender and time and location of the antibody test.

“The fact that this list has been leaked is a very serious security breach,” says Isabel Galvín, from the CCOO labor union. “We are going to file a complaint with the National Data Protection Agency today.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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