School students will be allowed to go on school trips despite not being vaccinated, according to the Flemish Catholic education network, but parents will have to pay the extra costs.
“It is not feasible for the school to have students who only have a negative test result on departure (and are therefore not vaccinated or do not have a recovery certificate) every 48 hours at the place of destination,” the network says in a letter to parents.
“We ask that you take this into account when registering.”
France and Italy – the two most popular destinations for school parties – are the most affected. Both countries demand a Covid Safe Ticket for anyone entering the country. That means proof of full vaccination, or evidence of recovery from a dose of Covid (which provides a degree of immunity) or a recent negative test.
However while vaccination or recovery allow the students to walk straight onto the coach, the negative test is only temporary.
For a nine-day trip to Italy, for example, an unvaccinated child would need to take three or four tests – each costing in the region of €40.
In addition to those standing costs, schools will also reckon any additional costs relating to fines, transport and return costs for a child who has to return home for non-respect of local regulations.
“Various schools had questions,” said network director-general Lieven Boeve in De Morgen.
“Some tour companies that work with our schools only allow vaccinated people.”
For example the Sint-Barbara College in Ghent was told by the travel agency that only students with a vaccination certificate are allowed to travel.
“As a school, you can't help but communicate that message,” Boeve said. “It is then up to the parents to ensure that their child complies with the rules. If that is not possible, the parents can be held liable for the costs incurred.”
However the problem is a thorny one for schools. On the one hand, vaccination is not obligatory. On the other, privacy regulations make it impossible to enquire whether a child has been vaccinated.
“That is why we advise schools to work with declarations,” said Boeve:
“If parents do not agree with the rules, they can contact the tour operator. We do not make their rules, nor those of foreign countries. Therefore, one piece of advice to school management: communicate well with parents. It is their responsibility to see how their son or daughter gets a valid Covid Safe Ticket, not the school's. We hope that the majority of students have been vaccinated by now.”
The Catholic schools network in Flanders cover 2,400 day schools and 101 residential schools, and some 750,000 students of school age.
The GO network of community education, with around 1,000 schools and 330,000 students, has yet to express on this matter.