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Back to school: Nursery and primary classes to resume in June
Primary and nursery school children in Belgium can return to class in June, after a committee of federal and regional representatives and public health experts reached an agreement on Wednesday night.
Nursery schools can reopen from Tuesday 2 June - and primary schools from 8 June - although the final decision remains with the director of each school. Pupils do not need to wear a mask, but it is strongly recommended for primary school teachers.
No nationwide decision has been taken on a return to class for secondary school pupils. Each of Belgium's three language communities can make its own decision - but the committee recommended that secondary pupils should only return for a few days before the summer break.
In primary and nursery schools, the 1.5-metre safety distance cannot be applied between pupils. In primary school, the distance should still be maintained between teacher and pupil, between the teachers themselves, and between teachers and parents.
Francophone education minister Caroline Désir said parents would not be sanctioned if they chose to keep their children at home: "In theory, each school has already brought back classes 1, 2 and 6 in primary. Now we invite them to welcome all students.
"If it is not possible, it's not possible. But we strongly encourage it. It's a way for schools to finish the year, for students to get back on track before the new school year in September."
Rooms must be well ventilated and, with the good weather, outdoor activities and lessons are encouraged. During playtimes, pupils should only mix with their fellow classmates.
The committee said in a statement on Wednesday evening: "Studies and experience from different countries show that children are less affected by the virus and less contagious. The reopening of schools will not lead to a significant upsurge in the epidemic, provided that certain protocols continue to be scrupulously followed."
The CGSP teaching union said it was "surprised and stunned by this sudden change", adding that schools had spent considerable sums on making adjustments to respect distance rules, which have now been thrown out. "We have made incredible efforts to put in place security measures," said president Joseph Thonon. "A few weeks later, we are told that it’s useless." The union is consulting with local branches but said that, at this stage, there is no plan for industrial action.
One school headteacher, in Liège, told RTL: "We received the circular on Wednesday at 23.38. I've already had lots of phone calls this morning from parents, asking if school is resuming next Tuesday. We need to see under what conditions and how we will be able to resume. Just two weeks ago we had made huge changes to the school, representing a huge financial cost to meet a checklist of 150 safety requirements. Now everything is being undone."
The League of Families is concerned that schools are free to choose whether to fully reopen or not. "This poses a problem - not all children will have the same access to school," said director Christophe Cocu. "Going back to school is important for children's mental health and socialisation."