How all pupils will return to school in Belgium

How all pupils will return to school in Belgium
© Belga/Dirk Waem

The different ministers responsible for education in Belgium, in consultation with the Group of Experts for the Exit Strategy (GEES), reached an agreement on how the gradual return to school for all pupils in Belgium will go.

As part of Phase 2 of Belgium's exit plan out of lockdown, primary and secondary education were gradually restarted. Certain grades in primary and secondary schools have been allowed to return to class from 15 May, provided they each had 4 square metres to themselves.

However, many schools complained that guaranteeing sufficient space for social distance was not possible for each pupil, and that it would only become more difficult when more children would be allowed to return.

Additionally, Flemish mayors denounced the communication of certain ministers and regions regarding the measures, after Flemish Minister for Education Ben Weyts announced his proposal that all pupils would be allowed to return to school from 2 June, without it being officially decided.

Following consultation with the sector, and in accordance with the advice of the GEES experts, the Consultation Committee decided that the gradual back-to-school for all pupils could go ahead, it announced on Thursday.

"Insights in international scientific circles have evolved," the GEES said. "Studies and experiences from different countries teach us that children seem to be less affected by the virus and they also seem to be less infectious. As a result, the progressive resumption of lessons will not lead to a significant resurgence of the virus, provided that the schools continue to follow the protocols closely," the experts added.

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The basic hygiene rules, such as washing your hands regularly and sneezing in your elbow, remain fundamental for everyone. Additionally, all schools must have an emergency plan in place in case an outbreak occurs.

Classrooms, corridors, and teachers' rooms must be well ventilated at all times. If possible, it is preferable to organise classes and other activities outdoors.

All grades in nursery schools will be allowed to reopen from Monday 2 June, according to the Consultation Committee's decision.

Teachers will not have to wear a face mask when interacting with very young children for "pedagogical and social" reasons. However, when teachers come into contact with other adults, wearing a mask remains strongly recommended. Additionally, respecting the social distance in nursery schools is not necessary.

From Monday 8 June, all grades in primary schools can restart, and schools that wish to do so, can start pilot projects from Friday 5 June.

Pupils do not have to wear a face mask, but the teaching staff should wear one if the social distance cannot be guaranteed. The social distancing rules for pupils, when they are interacting only with each other, can be relaxed. However, they remain in force for contact between pupil and teachers, among teachers, and for teachers and parents.

During recess, children should play with others withing their own class group as much as possible, according to the principle of 'contact bubbles'.

For secondary education, the Regions can decide for themselves to give schools the opportunity to restart several grades on top of the three that have been opened since 18 May. However, that is only allowed for a few days, at most.

Both staff and pupils are strongly recommended to wear a face mask at all times.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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