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The father of one of the students at the elementary school no. 2 in Koluszki, a small town in central Poland, stormed into the school despite a government ban screaming: "Your mask is a muzzle!", "Take off your mask!", "The virus is a hoax!". He told a teacher who was trying to calm him down that she is “brainwashed”. A sports teacher finally managed to pin him to the ground, while the school staff called the police. The incident took place early last week. 

Frustrated parents

Schools all around Poland are struggling to deal with aggressive parents who oppose the preventive measures introduced to counter the coronavirus pandemic. Local school directors receive notes from parents who do not want their children to wear masks or ask the school staff to measure their children’s temperature and isolate them in case they have a fever.

Magdalena Kaszulanis, the spokesperson for the Polish Teachers’ Union, tells us: - The pandemic has caused a surge of frustration, and teachers are taking it on their chin. We’re receiving many phone calls with complaints and requests for help. They find it more difficult to deal with every day. 

On top of that, there’s also the fear of being infected. - There are about a thousand people in my school and all of them are jammed together into a single building. Going to work, I find it hard not to think about the risk of catching the virus, and the risk is especially high in such places. Masks, disinfectants, constantly disinfected desks, and a never-ending stream of media reports about outbreaks in particular schools, about online classes, people put in quarantine... all of this makes you feel under siege and negatively affects your mental health – a high school teacher from Kraków tells us. 

Teachers are quitting their job or taking a leave of absence 

- I’ve asked my husband whether he prefers me to be healthy but unemployed, or working but sick. If it’s not the coronavirus that gets me, it’ll definitely be a mental breakdown - says a teacher at an elementary school in Kraków, admitting that she has been thinking about quitting her job. 

The Polish Teachers’ Union is collecting data on the numbers of teachers who choose to walk away from their job. Even though a conclusive report for the entire country is yet to be seen, Ms. Kaszulanis says that it is already clear that the numbers are higher than usual. Some teachers have retired or chose to go on early retirement, others are taking a year-long leave of absence to take care of their health. 

-We must protect our teachers. Otherwise, schools will have to close. Not because of the coronavirus, but because there won’t be anyone to teach our children- urges a local union leader, Arkadiusz Boroń.

Ms. Kaszulanis thinks that organizing psychological support groups for teachers would the best solution. Initiatives like, for example, workshops on how to deal with negative emotions, one’s own and those of frustrated parents, would be useful. However, she admits that implementing such ideas is rather unlikely since schools don't even have the money to buy additional desks (to make sure that there is enough distance between students in the classroom), they lack resources to buy face masks and disinfectants. - Who would think about the teachers’ mental health in a situation like this? It’s been placed at the very bottom of the hierarchy of needs – she comments. 

An appeal to local governments

To protect it, representatives of the Polish Teachers’ Union for the district of Małopolska in southern Poland prepared an appeal to local governments in the entire region, calling on them to: provide free flu vaccination for teachers, make sure there are enough face masks and disinfectants, and organize mass testing for coronavirus for all teachers.

Currently, we have a situation where even if we detect a case of coronavirus infection in our school, we limit testing only to potential contact persons. Meanwhile, everyone walks around the same hallways and uses the same bathrooms. Coal miners and meat plant workers were tested, why are teachers being left out? This is of great importance, especially during the flu season. If we succeed in detecting an infected person, we may save the lives of many others- says Mr. Boroń.

Flu vaccination programs for teachers have already been implemented in cities like Warsaw and Wrocław. Kraków recommends getting vaccinated but refuses to finance such endeavors. 

According to a survey conducted by the "Teachers’ Voice" newspaper, 15% of teachers would like to see greater preventive measures implemented at schools to ensure a safe environment during the pandemic. Over 30% declares being scared of the current situation. 

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.

The access to information should be equal for all.

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