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    Flanders eyes partially reopening schools in May

    Flanders will propose a partial reopening of schools from 15 May during the next National Security Council meeting, where strategies on rolling back the nationwide lockdown will be discussed. © Belga

    Flanders is aiming to allow schools to partially reopen from 15 May and will table the proposal during a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Friday.

    Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts announced he had reached an agreement with school representatives on Wednesday on the first steps to gradually getting children back into the classroom.

    The agreement is not final and will reportedly be submitted for consideration during the NSC meeting on Friday.

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    According to the arrangement, from Friday 15 May schools will be allowed to resume on-site teaching for a number of days each week and for specific age groups.

    Primary school pupils in the 1st and 2nd grades would be allowed to attend school four days a week, while those in the 6th grade would go twice per week.

    Secondary schools would only reopen for final-year students, with those following a standard curriculum (ASO/ESG) allowed to attend one day per week.

    Last-year secondary school students following a technical (TSO/EST), artistic (KSO/ESA) or vocational (BSO/ESP) curriculum would attend school twice per week.

    “We have chosen the transition years because these are crucial years,” Weyts said as he presented the agreement before the regional parliament.

    Kindergartens would remain closed and universities and other higher education institutions were not included in the agreement.

    Groups of ten pupils

    To ensure health and safety regulations are respected, the plan says students should be taught in fixed groups of 10 and advises separating children following lessons from children dropped to school for child care.

    Schools would also need to provide a space of 4 square metres per student as well as ensure that the minimum 1.5 metres of social distancing are respected at all times, VRT reports.

    After over a month of suspending on-site schooling, the choice of starting back up on a Friday was made to allow schools to do a “test run” for one day and give them the chance to reassess before starting back up on Monday, Weyts said.

    The agreement reportedly mentions that the use of gloves is obligatory and that the use of face masks is “highly recommended” for teaching staff.

    The protective gear would be given with priority to maintenance, transport and child care staff in schools and teachers and students would receive it first.

    Weyts said that he had informed his French-speaking counterpart of his proposed date and said that Francophone education officials were currently in talks.

    In Brussels, a spokesperson for Education Minister for the French-speaking Community of Brussels, Caroline Désir, said that there were no plans to make a similar proposal for a reopening date.

    “Consultations are ongoing, we will not be putting a specific date forward nor communicating about it, we will follow the decisions taken by the NSC and hope everyone goes forward together,” spokesperson Jean-François Mahieu told The Brussels Times.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times