The start of the new school year has been somewhat complicated in the Brussels-Capital Region, as pupils in Francophone schools no longer have to wear face masks, while it is still mandatory for some Dutch-speaking groups.
Before the start of the new school year, educational authorities in Flanders and the French Community (made up of Wallonia and Francophone Brussels) decided to relax mask rules for pupils from 1 September.
But Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels are still enforcing the stricter rules that were in force before the summer holidays, meaning that staff and pupils in the fifth and sixth years in primary school (pupils aged 10-12) must still wear a mask indoors.
In some schools, such as the Sint-Juliaan ‘De Vlindertuin’ in the municipality of Auderghem, this leads to some confusion as Dutch and French-speaking pupils enter the school through the same gate.
But once pupils are inside, different rules apply.
“It is not easy to explain that situation to the children,” director Stéphanie Vermeire said on Flemish radio. “But I hope that by the end of September there will be new relaxations for the pupils in the fifth and sixth grades.”
Outdoors, Dutch-speaking pupils also have to wear a face mask if they cannot keep their distance, but things are slightly different for the French-speaking pupils.
“It is a pity that such measures accentuate the difference. We have to see how we can solve this together in Brussels,” Vermeire said. “Because if you create difference by having such different measures in one school, then we have to try to make decisions together.”
In secondary schools in Flanders and the French Community, too, face masks in the classroom are a thing of the past: when students sit down or stand still in class they can take off their masks.
Teachers are also allowed to remove their masks when teaching if they remain in front of the class.
In Brussels’ Dutch-speaking secondary schools however, staff and pupils (aged 13 to 18) still have to wear a mask when indoors. Additionally, pupils and staff must keep as much distance from each other as possible.
Schools should also try to mix class groups as little as possible, with separate times for breaks and/or lunch for different groups in secondary school, for example.
“Due to the low vaccination rate in Brussels, we understand that there is no other way,” Bruno De Lille, General Director of the Sint Goedele school group in Brussels, told VRT.
“But it remains a pity that in Brussels everything is lumped together and that they do not look at the situation per municipality or per school,” he added.
According to De Lille, it is regrettable that the rules have not been relaxed across the whole Capital-Region, as “the pupils and teachers are desperate for some relaxations, and some of them now have to wear masks for the third year in a row.”