The various partners in the Flemish education system are due to meet today to decide whether or not to extend the spring school holidays, known as the crocus holiday.
Normally, schools would close on Friday 12 February and re-open on Monday 22 February. There is a proposal on the table, however, to close a week earlier, on Friday 5 February, extending the holiday by one week.
The partners – government, school groups, administrators and unions – aim to tackle the question now in order to avoid the situation last year at autumn break, when the decision was left trailing until the last minute, leaving everyone including parents in a state of uncertainty.
“The question will be discussed,” a spokesperson for education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) said. “They will examine whether anything can be decided now. Nothing more than that.”
However the teachers’ union ACOD intends to bring up another question: the obligatory wearing of face masks for children in the fifth and sixth year of primary school.
Until now, children under 12 years have now been required to wear face masks, being considered a low risk of passing on the virus to others.
However the situation has since changed, with the new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus now thought to be more infectious than before, including when it comes to the virus being passed on by children.
The situation is such that the government in the United Kingdom, where one of the new variants is currently more prevalent than elsewhere, yesterday decided to keep primary schools in London closed for another week instead of opening on Monday.
In Flanders, schools will open as normal following the Christmas break. Today’s meeting is only a preparation for the next holiday period.
Education in Belgium is the responsibility of the language communities rather than the regional or federal governments. That means that decisions taken for the Flemish system have no effect on the French-speaking system, which has its own decision-making process,
According to the French-speaking community, the question of prolonging the spring break has not been raised, but the situation is being followed closely. The various parties are due to meet with minister Caroline Désir (PS) in the course of the coming week.
But the question of mask wearing needs to be addressed immediately, ACOD says, and it has some backing of microbiologist Herman Goossens of Antwerp university. Speaking to Gazet van Antwerpen, Goossens said, “If that helps keep the schools open – which is very important for parents and the economy as well as for our children and their well-being – then we need to put it in place.”
Goossens has also called for primary school children to be tested more often, given the increased likelihood they might become infected with the new variant. The evolution of the disease among children is something that has to be kept under close watch, he said.
“Until now there is no indication that the British virus variant is present in large numbers, but it cannot be ruled out that this variant of the virus is already circulating here,” he said.
“When you see that infections in England are shifting to younger age groups, it worries me. Because it can move very quickly.”
The Brussels Times