'No plans' to shut Belgian Francophone schools amid rise in Covid-19 cases

'No plans' to shut Belgian Francophone schools amid rise in Covid-19 cases
© Belga

French-speaking schools in Belgium are set to remain open even as Covid-19 infections climb in the country, the Francophone education minister said, aligning herself with the stance of her Flemish counterpart.

Education Minister Caroline Désir said schools were a "top priority" and that there were currently "no plans" to shut down primary or secondary French-speaking schools in Brussels and Wallonia.

"None of the scenarios studied so far with experts involves plans to shut down schools," Désir said on Tuesday, Le Soir reports.

The minister indicated that they were ready to keep schools in the current, moderate risk yellow code scenario and also said they were ready to stick to plans, unveiled in the summer, to keep some degree of on-site learning even in the case schools entered the red, or highest risk scenario.

Désir's comments come a day after Flemish education minister Ben Weyts also said that he wanted to keep Dutch-speaking schools in the Flemish and Brussels regions open.

"The longer pupils remain away from school, the graver the impacts are on their skill development and learning," she said, adding that suspending on-site teaching also had a negative impact on pupils' overall wellbeing and exacerbated social inequalities.

Her comments come as the spread of the coronavirus grips Belgium's French-speaking Walloon region, where two provinces on Tuesday decided to impose a curfew to curb the soaring infection rates.

"Schools being a priority, we can take the decision to keep it in the yellow code longer than other sectors," she said, saying authorities monitored epidemiological data in schools constantly and that the data "showed that risks in schools are limited."

235 cases per 100,000 students

Figures released last week by the Francophone Office of Birth and Childhood, ONE, show that 16% of the Covid-19 cases detected in schools could be traced as having been caught within the school.

ONE also said that, as of 9 October, there were 235 cases per 100,000 students over a two-week period, and that 764 schools were so far impacted, and that new cases were mostly being recorded among secondary school students, non-university higher education students and staff members.

Out of the roughly 900,000 students enrolled in Francophone schools in the country, 5,820, or around 0.5%, have been sent into self-isolation, according to ONE.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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