Stricter rules are being implemented across a variety of sectors in Belgium to curb the rising number of infections and limit the damage as a result of this, including in schools across the country.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo already announced the various measures for nightclubs and the hospitality industry on Friday afternoon, however, both the Flemish and French-speaking education partners met following the Consultative Committee to discuss the tightening of rules and measures for schools and nurseries.
While the Flemish-speaking schools will mainly see changes to quarantine regulations and the restriction of social contacts, French-speaking education partners focussed on restrictions in school trips. Both sides have not imposed new face mask rules.
On Friday evening, it was announced by the Flemish education partners that quarantine regulations will once again be tightened, just one month after they were eased following criticism that the current framework was quarantining thousands of children who weren't showing symptoms.
A class will have to go into quarantine from the moment that three infections are found within a week; until now, this was the case with four infections, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts announced.
He added that schools will be given a budget of €11 million for the purchase of additional CO2 meters, and an additional €6.5 million for the purchase of self-tests.
Within the classroom, pupils will be given a fixed seat, and the current face mask rules, making them mandatory for pupils in the fifth and sixth grades of primary schools, will remain in place.
Meanwhile, extracurricular activities involving overnight stays will be scrapped until the Christmas holidays, and class groups will not be allowed to congregate in canteens and study halls. However, they can still meet outside on playgrounds.
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Schools can decide for themselves to wholly or partially switch to distance learning or close down, however, according to the ACOD teaching union, these rules are not clear enough and are leaving too much room for freedom.
"It is unclear what constituted as a problematic situation and who decides when the situation is problematic," Nancy Libert, ACOD general secretary, told Belga news agency. "Schools also compete with each other and try to stay open as long as possible."
Health experts have also warned these measures may not be sufficient to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in schools.
"I don't think this will bring the situation under control and that is unfortunate for the children, for their parents and the teachers," Infectiologist Erika Vlieghe said during an interview in "Terzake," adding that a class should not wait until three infections have been recorded before going into quarantine.
The rules regarding the cancellation of school trips for nursery and primary schools with overnight stays are stricter in French-speaking schools, as education partners decided these should not go ahead until after the Carnival holidays, in March 2022. One-day school trips without overnight stays will still be allowed.
Meanwhile, the face mask obligation remains the same, meaning this will not be mandatory for nursery and primary school pupils. In secondary schools, students have to wear face masks, even when seated.
Outside the classroom, schools are asked to "avoid the mixing of class groups as much as possible," and a fixed seating system will also be implemented here.
Meanwhile, it was announced that teachers and nursery staff will not be given a priority when booster dose vaccination invitations are sent to the general population, despite requests from the Flemish government to give this group precedence because they work with unvaccinated people.