Europe transits, in a complex game of balances, towards the normalization of school activity after the summer holidays. It does so on an uncertain horizon, with the latent threat of the coronavirus, whose second wave has been anticipated by experts, who pointed to the autumn months. In the absence of weeks to complete the return of students to classrooms, the EU countries agree on one issue: returning to schools is vital and all students must return to classes as soon as possible to make up the lost teaching hours by confinement.
The outpost of what this course will be like in the midst of a pandemic is Germany. Several of your states have reopened their schools and have verified the difficult challenge posed by the virus, after last week forcing the closure of two centers five days after their reopening. The rest of the countries take note and continue with their calendar for the return to the classroom, which will be concentrated in September. The strategy is clear: extreme hygiene, keeping your distance in most cases and the almost general use of masks. The script, even if, is open to changes, depending on the contagions.
Restrictions at different levels in the return to classrooms
Different accesses in space and time to schools, isolation between classes to avoid contacts between students of different courses and use of masks in corridors and patios, and in some regions or schools also within classrooms. This is how the course began on Monday in three of the 16 federal states after the summer holidays, which are six weeks in Germany. The city-state of Berlin, the region of Brandenburg and the state of Schleswig-Holstein opened their schools a week after Macklenburg-Antepomerania and Hamburg. Tomorrow it’s the turn of the populous North Rhine-Westphalia. Each region has its own rules to avoid contagion, although many coincide.
In Schleswig Holstein, where the incidence of the virus has been minimal, Education has refused to impose the use of masks in schools, considering it disproportionate and unconstitutional. However, a school in the town of Husum was kept closed on the first day of school as a preventive measure after one of its teachers was infected. In Berlin and Brandenburg, on the other hand, the use of masks is mandatory for students and teachers inside buildings, in corridors, rooms and laboratories, but not in classrooms or the courtyard. In North Rhine-Westphalia, they do have to wear them in class and during breaks.
What all the German regional authorities agree on is the need to avoid a new total closure of the educational system. They are betting on specific and limited closures like last week in Mecklenburg-Antepomerania.
Scotland resumes teaching in an atmosphere of tension
Scottish students will start the gradual return to their schools, which have to be open on August 18. In Northern Ireland, the reopening of will be between 24 and 1 September. In the first two days of next month they have to open those in England and between 1 and 14 September all those in Wales.
The reopening comes at a time of dismay for many Scottish students, who have seen how their teachers’ grades for this course have been drastically reduced by the Ratings Authority, with a method that takes into account closure due to the pandemic. The Minister of Education has promised to rectify.
40% of the pre-university grades, essential for obtaining a place, will be revised downwards in England, as published by ‘The Guardian’. Waiting for confirmation and possible protest, the government of Boris Johnson encourages the reopening of schools – “it is our moral duty,” said the prime minister – despite the reservations of the unions.
The Government has published a guide. The public health entity, PHE, is going to publish a study that would show the poor transmission between school and that the risk among teachers is similar to that of other professions. The unions have produced a much more detailed guide for their members to verify that the steps are being taken to make the idea behind the most vague instructions of the Executive a reality in their school.
No social distance for a mass return of schoolchildren
The school year begins this year in France on Tuesday, September 1 for all levels, from maternelle (infant) to lycée (baccalaureate). For now, what the Government has announced is that they are going to relax somewhat security measures that had been imposed after confinement, especially among the smallest. It will no longer be mandatory, for example, for infant teachers to wear a mask in classes. Neither will physical distancing be required between the students, neither in the classrooms nor in the yard because the objective is to welcome all children. In addition, students will be allowed to share objects.
The mask will only be mandatory from college (high school, 11 years old). The personnel of the centers, with the exception of preschool, must wear this protection system when the separation of one meter cannot be maintained. Similarly, a directive asking to limit mixing between different classes or groups has been removed.
“Periodic” disinfection and psychological care
In this school year that starts in September, Italian schools will have as a novelty activities of Psychological Support to cope with stressful situations derived from the coronavirus. Similarly, the Government and unions have drawn up a protocol to allow a return to classrooms with the maximum possible security. Thus, the entrances and exits of the schools will be different and access to visitors, such as parents, will be limited.
Teachers and students who have been infected must present a medical certificate stating that they have overcome the disease. Similarly, the centers should ensure the “daily” cleaning and “regular” disinfection of all its zones and the distance of one meter will be respected inside. The use of a mask, for its part, will be mandatory for everyone who enters the schools. At the end of this month, the government’s scientific committee will decide whether students should use it as well.
Different scenarios, depending on the evolution of the pandemic
The Belgian authorities have drawn several color-coded scenarios (green, yellow, orange and red) to orient the centers in the resumption of school activity. Everything is subject to the evolution of the pandemic. Still, for basic education (preschool and primary), students are expected to attend classrooms every day from September 1.
In secondary school, three types of re-entry were defined to be decided by the National Security Council, according to the infections. They range from opening normally, to receiving face-to-face classes four days a week or with a limited number of students who must wear a mask and receive distance lessons.
Longer course and masks from fifth grade on
The next school year in Portugal will begin between September 14 and 17 for all modalities. It will be longer than usual, with fewer holidays, with face-to-face teaching as a rule, but a ‘plan B’ has been prepared with mixed regimes and another completely remote in case it were necessary to close schools again. The masks will be compulsory within the teaching compound from the fifth year of Primary (10 years).
The United States tests a hybrid system between classroom attendance and virtual teaching
MERCEDES GALLEGO | New York
The reopening of the schools is the most contentious aspect between the Trump administration and the health authorities. Pressure from the teachers’ union has managed to reduce the total number of people in a classroom to a maximum of 15, half of what there was last year.
Some New York schools are prioritizing the children of essential workers to attend classrooms in person. In the wild west that the lack of leadership of the president has created with the pandemic, each of the 50 states of the union can set its own rules and even each county. New York State has 27 counties, five of them in New York City, all with such a low infection rate that Governor Mario Cuomo announced a general return to the classroom on Friday.
The model chosen by the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, is a hybrid system of face-to-face and virtual classes on alternate days – one week three days and the next two. Going to school is not compulsory, only schooling, so parents can choose between this system or a totally virtual one. They can return to the latter at any time, but to send their children to class they will have to notify it at the beginning of each term. As there is no money to pay for as many teachers as will be needed, anyone with an educational qualification will be able to aspire to a contract, and that makes parents doubt the quality of education that their children will receive.
However, psychiatric associations have insisted on the importance for children of attending class in person. Everything goes day by day and everyone reserves the right to change their mind, starting with the authorities. The future is uncertain for children and adults.