So far, 19 Dutch-speaking schools in Flanders and Brussels have already reported that they are closing temporarily, and more are expected to follow in the coming days and weeks, said Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts.
As most closures have to do with staff shortages, inspectors from the Education Inspectorate will be given the chance to step into the breach and help schools with many teachers in quarantine, Weyts announced on Wednesday.
“We are not solving all problems with this, but it is a nice gesture by the Education Inspectorate,” he said. “It is really all hands on deck. Our inspectors are people with a lot of practical experience who can be deployed broadly.”
Schools are being given additional resources and opportunities to hire extra people, now that many teachers have to be quarantined again due to the fifth wave, but it is often difficult to find suitable people.
“At the height of the fourth wave, about 150 schools had to close down completely. We know that in this fifth wave too, a lot of schools are in trouble. The Education Inspectorate is now doing what it can to help,” said Weyts.
Normally, the 150 staff members of the Education Inspectorate have a wide range of tasks: they inspect schools, carry out inspections in boarding schools and home education, conduct research and give advice on new curricula or schools.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, however, it has thoroughly changed its own way of working and concentrated on supporting schools when necessary. In the coming weeks, the inspectorate will contact all schools again and offer to talk to them. If schools ask for it, an education inspector can also substitute on the classroom floor.
“Every inspector has years of experience as a teacher. They have the necessary baggage to fill in for a few days, for example,” Weyts added. “The offer is without obligation. The school and the inspector can make concrete arrangements themselves.”
Only quarantining the sick and infected
Earlier on Wednesday, the education sector called on the Federal Government to adjust its quarantine policy, as the high infection rate among children and their parents is temporarily closing entire classes.
In the last week, some 40,000 school-aged children tested positive with coronavirus. The Flemish Centre for Pupil Guidance (CLB) is calling for a new policy that would mean pupils can still attend school if they are not symptomatic or did not test positive.
This would put an end to both the contact tracing system in secondary schools and the emergency brake procedure in primary schools, which states that all pupils and the teacher have to go into quarantine after four infections in one class – a measure which has forced many children to stay at home despite not showing symptoms or testing positive.
The CLB argues that thanks to the other coronavirus measures that are already in place – such as face masks, ventilation in classrooms and avoiding the mixing of classrooms – it should be possible to do away with the strict quarantine rules.