The COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming scholastic year remain shrouded in secrecy, with Education Minister Owen Bonnici not saying whether there are enough school buses for all students if social distancing measures remain in place.

Schools are set to re-open for the new scholastic year on September 28.

All educational institutions were shut in March as part of efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But while the education authorities have repeatedly said they are drafting protocols for the upcoming school year to make sure there are no outbreaks of the virus, educators and students are still in the dark on what the new normal might look like for them.

Asked about this yesterday, Bonnici said the education authorities are in constant contact with stakeholders but would not divulge more details.

The protocols for schools would be similar to those currently in place during the government’s summer school programme Skolasajf, he said.

“We have re-opened childcare centres, Skolasajf and even SEC revision classes and other institutions like English language schools and so far there hasn’t been anyone with virus symptoms while at these institutions,” Bonnici said.

“We take all the precautions and we will be doing the same when we re-open schools on September 28.”

Though these protocols have not been made public, it is believed that students will be kept in smaller groups than usual and only interact with those in their own class.

Break times have also been staggered to avoid having too many groups meeting at the same time.

The introduction of social distancing measures at schools also has some parents worried about the potential impact on school transport systems, especially if the number of students onboard is capped.

Bonnici, however, would not comment when asked if the government had enough mini-buses if such social distancing rules onboard the buses is enforced.

“Our aim is to go back to normal... we are looking to ensure that children go to school in September because that is what is best for our students,” the minister said, making no mention of the school buses.

In 2018, parents had struggled to secure mini-bus seats for their children because the number of vehicles available was not enough to accommodate all students in the country.

At the time, operators had been inundated with requests from parents, with hundreds of students having to be put on a waiting list for months.

Some operators were also forced to pick up students earlier than usual to fit in two trips in one morning.

The free school transport scheme, which saves parents around €700 per child, had been introduced as part of efforts to address traffic issues by encouraging the use of mass modes of transport.

Questions sent via email on the matter have remained unanswered for weeks.

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