Berlin - The John Lennon Gymnasium in Mitte is one of the most sought-after high schools in Berlin. The school is known for pioneering digitalisation and its ambitious student body. But even here, where in normal times many things run better than elsewhere, the pandemic is creating discord. Teachers at the John Lennon Gymnasium have joined with other colleagues to publish an open protest letter to Berlin's top education official.

Many at the school have had enough and the prestigious school is, according to the letter, on the verge of a wildcat strike. The teachers can no longer remain silent.

"I find the way we are being dealt with by the government simply outrageous; the vaccination debacle has is the final straw. I feel neither respected nor motivated in my work; I sometimes feel angry, empty and blocked," writes one of the teachers. A survey within the school reflects the long-growing resentment. 

Eighty-six per cent want John Lennon Gymnasium to speak with "one voice" to the outside world; 81 per cent feel their health is at risk; 87.5 per cent feel they are being subjected to excessive workloads and 98.5 per cent do not feel they are supported by the education department.

School closures or vaccination, you choose

The letter is not aimed at school management, but rather at the state government. Students in Mitte have a corona incidence rate of 300 but 80 per cent of teachers at the school remain unvaccinated. Teachers say they either want rapid vaccination or the closure of schools when the incidence crests 100 - 65 points below the recent corona "emergency brake" legislation passed by the German government.

The GEW teacher union agrees and called on Berlin health minister Dilek Kalayci (SPD) as well her education counterpart Sandra Scheeres (SPD) to make vaccination of secondary school employees possible quickly. Priority groups should have been offered AstraZeneca vaccinations before they were opened to everyone in Berlin - though teachers should also have access to other vaccines, the union says.

"Teachers have close contact with a great many people, more than the vast majority of professional groups. The incidence among students is again significantly higher than the average population. Yet a large proportion of teachers remain unvaccinated. This is in blatant contradiction to the assurances of the policy to give priority to the opening of schools," said Tom Erdmann, chairman of the GEW Berlin.

The education department says it's aware of the problem and is working on a solution.

"The minister is in constant conversation with the health minister. We are waiting for the go from there to vaccinate teachers," a department spokesperson said.

The teachers at John Lennon also want external staff to help with corona testing, which now must be performed at school twice a week for each student.

"The three teachers who have been trained to do the testing do not have the time to test over 80 colleagues when there are high school graduations and hybrid classes," they say.

Starting next week, self-tests will also be mandatory for teachers; previously they were voluntary.

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