- Masks mandatory for teachers and pupils aged over 11;
- Pupils aged 3-11 must wear masks in communal areas;
- 'Bubble' groups in school and transport;
- 1.5 metres social distance between students in class;
Guidelines for how schools will operate when they reopen later this month have been announced.
Most pupils will return to their desks in late September after an unexpected six-month shutdown caused by COVID-19.
But they will be taught in smaller class sizes, with their tables kept 1.5 metres apart where possible, and they will have to wear masks for at least some of the school day.
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Education and Employment, Frank Fabri and Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci gave details about the new measures in a statement at Kirkop School.
The full guidelines were published later on Wednesday and authorities are working on a separate plan for kindergarten.
Watch the news conference below
Fabri confirmed that the new school year would begin in around four weeks time and said their approach was based on global best practice and discussions with the World Health Organisation.
A school-opening guide is going to be published "in the coming hours" so that parents and pupils can understand the new rules.
Gauci said that if children have any COVID-19 symptoms or if parents have any suspicions, it is important they are not sent to school.
Any child that develops symptoms on the way to school, will be kept in a "COVID bay" until they are picked up.
In the case of a confirmed case in a school, authorities will contact trace and a designated liaison officer, one per school, will carry out a risk assessment.
Schools will open slightly earlier under the new protocols so that parents don't drop children off at the same time. It is unclear if this means there will be staggered opening times for pupils.
Once at their desks, the guidelines say schools will make an effort to try keep them 1.5 metres apart in order to prevent any COVID-19 spread.
Class sizes will be limited so that the number of children needing quarantine in case of infection will be as low as possible.
There will be so-called "bubbles" or groups of children taught together in both primary and secondary schools and not just during class, but also during break time.
Areas of schools that aren't normally used might have to be utilized to keep the numbers of pupils in classrooms low.
Fabri said this will work in practice by adopting measures such as students being assigned a classroom, rather than teachers being assigned a classroom.
He said talks are ongoing with unions about whether the measures will mean an increase in teacher numbers, while Gauci said there will be a special set of guidelines for Learning Support Assistants, who work closely with children.
Students aged between three and 11 must wear a mask outside class in communal areas while those aged over 11 and staff will have to wear them at all times.
All pupils will have to wear a mask on school transport. And vulnerable students and those with vulnerable parents are being advised to wear a mask, but assessments will be on a case-by-case basis
Records will be kept of which students are in which class and what staff they come into contact with to help with contract tracing.
As well as being obliged to wear masks, pupils on school transport will have to distance from each other.
Windows must remain open, and there will be sanitizer provided as well as cleaning between journeys.
Parents must check students before being put on the bus in the morning. Fabri said that the bubbles on transport will mean that the students on a bus will always have to be the same group.
A student won’t be able to switch buses and go to someone else’s house, for example.
All those who live within 1.5km of school will be encouraged to walk or have their parents collect them.
Fabri said that education is best done in school, so the authorities prefer students to be in school if possible.
However, the authorities are drafting plans for those that end up having to spend time at home. This will be based on “tele-schooling.”
Authorities are currently discussing models with unions to find out the best methods of online teaching for vulnerable children.
Pupils will continue to have homework assigned to them, but teachers will be encouraged to give digital homework to limit the possibility of infection from exchanging workbooks.
Teachers will also be encouraged to have students correct homework during class.
In a statement, the Malta Union of Teachers said intensive discussions are needed for the protocols to be put in place. This will be a major challenge that is crucial for the health and safety of educators and students to be safeguarded, it said.
The union said it is currently in talks with all sectors, including with church and independent schools, for the protocols to be developed into implementation guidelines.
It said its position on the reopening of schools will depend on the implementation of protocols and the situation of the pandemic in the coming weeks.
The union said it will remain in contact with its members to listen and give the requested information.
In another statement, the Nationalist Party welcomed the protocols but said the Education Ministry was still not prepared with a clear plan on the implementation details.
The lack of detailed preparation was creating anxiety among parents, schools’ administrations and educators.
The protocols, the party said, was just the first step towards the reopening of schools and a serious and detailed implementation plan was needed.
This had to be drawn up in dialogue with all stakeholders.
Matters also had to be clarified regarding kindergartens, post-secondary institutions, and remote learning where necessary.
The Union of Professional Educators – Voice of the Workers said its executive board will be reviewing the 35-page guidelines document before discussing it internally in detail.
However, it was obvious from an initial cursory look that there were some significant discrepancies between what was in the guidelines and what was said during the press conference.
It also said that the content of the document was not revealed to the union until it was published and at no point did it agree to the reopening of schools to the detriment of vulnerable educators or children.
The union said it would never agree with any guidelines which might put people at risk.
If the state refused to protect the more vulnerable educators, the UPE would strongly oppose measures, it warned.
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