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    Children could sit closer together in class from June

    Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

    Belgium’s Group of Experts for the Exit Strategy (GEES) will issue new advice for the education sector on Tuesday, following complaints from many schools that the previous distance guidelines were not manageable.

    The new advice would mainly concern the initially recommended distance of 4 square metres per pupil, said Flemish Minister for Education Ben Weyts on Radio 1. The new advice will, among other things, allow for a smaller distance between pupils, according to him.

    “If [the distance can be smaller], that makes it much more workable for many schools. I want to seize this opportunity with both hands, to open the schools for as many students as possible,” Weyts said.

    Recently, many schools indicated that it will be impossible to allow all pupils in Flanders to go back to school from 2 June while respecting the social distance rules.

    “We only have the space we have, and we have to divide all class groups into 2 or 3, because you have to provide 4 square metres per child in primary school,” Tim Stiers, director of a primary school in Landen in the Flemish Brabant province, told VRT.

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    “All classrooms also have to be cleaned regularly. We do not have a script for those new hygiene rules yet. We may have to recruit extra people, and look into how we can continue to organise the emergency daycare with the city,” he added.

    On Monday, virologist Marc Van Ranst said that it would not be a big problem if the distance between children in class would be smaller. “However, we will try to guarantee the distance with the teacher,” Van Ranst said on VRT News. “[A smaller distance] would also be a bit more in line with the youth camps that will take place a few weeks later, when bubbles of 50 can be formed,” he added.

    The schools can decide for themselves if it is manageable to reopen for all grades, Minister Weyts stressed. “What we have put on the table is the maximum achievable scenario. We are well aware that this will not be possible in all places, and we have every sympathy for this,” he said.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times