Updated 8.30pm, adds UPE statement

All students will be heading back to school on Monday after a teachers' strike was called off after two days

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the government said it had reached an agreement with the Malta Union of Teachers together with representatives from Church and independent schools. 

The decision to reopen schools on Monday came after a meeting on Friday morning attended by the education authorities, the MUT, representatives from Church and independent school as well as public health chief Charmaine Gauci. 

In the statement, the government said the existing protocols, including contact tracing, would be stepped up. It also pledged to give priority to school staff in its vaccination programme.

A working group will also be set up with representatives from all sides. 

The government said that union representatives had been assured that virus cases within the community were likely to go down with schools open, as families were less likely to attend social activities.

It did not provide any further details to substantiate this claim. 

In a statement of its own, the MUT said it reserved the right to take "any measure necessary" if it sensed that educators, students and parents were being put at any risk. 

The Nationalist Party welcomed the agreement. 

In a statement later, the Union of Professional Educators said it took note of the agreement, requested a copy and said it will only endorse it once it carefully reads it.

It reserved the right to take industrial action should any of the terms and conditions outlined be breached at any point. It said it will inform members of what the agreement includes.

The agreement brings the curtain down on a two-day strike which was called late on Wednesday, one night before state school students and some others at Church and independent schools were meant to return to their classroom desks.

But a sudden spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases prompted Church and independent schools to shift learning online. Upon learning of this decision, the MUT called on the government to do the same with State schools, saying all teachers should be treated equally and all educators were equally at risk. 

Ahead of the Friday meeting which ended the strike, Education Minister Justyne Caruana told Times of Malta state schools had not yet shifted online because of teachers’ resistance, though she skirted questions on whether schools had the necessary infrastructure in place to shift lessons online overnight, as has been the case at Church and independent schools.

Meanwhile, during her weekly briefing on the COVID-19 situation, Gauci shared her views on the matter for the first time since the row between the government and the educators erupted. 

She said schools should continue to operate with COVID-19 measures in place.

"As health authorities, we hope school continues with mitigation measures in place," she said. "That way, children will get their education, albeit with protocols in place."

She reiterated the success of schools operating in previous months without adding to the spread of the virus.

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