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Flemish schools futher reduce pupils returning to class

Credit: Belga

One in five Flemish primary schools will restart classes for only one or two grades on Friday, opting to bring in fewer pupils than authorised under Belgium’s National Security Council’s guidelines.

The schools do not have enough classrooms or staff members to make sure everything can be handled safely, according to a sample of some 200 schools taken by the Flemish Education Inspectorate.

In April, the National Security Council decided that in primary schools, the first, second and last grades could go back to school from Friday 15 May. For secondary schools, the last grade is also set to restart.

The Security Council’s guideline of restarting three grades is not an obligation, as schools are also allowed to organise a smaller restart, if they do not have enough space or think the safety risk is too big. About one in five of primary schools of primary schools have decided to that, and will only restart one or two grades, according to the Inspectorate.

As only 14 pupils are allowed per classroom, several schools do not have enough space available. “A lot depends on the local situation,” Lieven Boeve, top executive of the Catholic Education told VRT. “For example, when classes have to be split up, schools often do not have enough teachers,” he added.

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“They expect to still organise daycare for a lot of children and do not know how to combine that with teaching. On top of that, do not forget that the safety measures also have to be respected: wearing face masks, washing hands a lot, keeping your distance… It is difficult to put together,” Boeve said.

Primary school De Ark in the city of Leuven announced that they will opt for a very phased restart. “We have chosen the path with the least risks,” the head of the school, Martine Foulon, told De Standaard. “Apart from the children being taught, we also have to organise child care, and it is still unclear how many children will use that,” she added.

“Children should also have the space to play and move in a safe way. There are other schools that do fully follow the guidelines, but perhaps they will soon have to cut back on that,” Foulon said. “We want to go for a clear, phased and safe start-up,” she added.

Many principals will wait and see how many people will make use of the option for child care, before immediately restarting three grades. “Sometimes, it is a matter of creating support and trust among teachers and parents before we can open the school gate any further,” Boeve added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times