Malta will be re-opening its schools on 28 September, the Principal permanent secretary in the Education Ministry Frank Fabri confirmed today.
In the coming hours, the health superintendence will be publishing the guidelines needed for the opening of the schools, based on sicentific evidence, he said.
The world has understood that schools cannot remain closed, and so protocols have been established for education to continue, Fabri said.
He said the ministry held discussions with all the stakeholders and took part in a conference with the World Health organisation on the matter.
Fabri said that children who live within 1.5 kilometres of their school will be encouraged to walk to school. Until now, children who lived within 1km were encouraged to do so, this has been extended to 1.5km.
He said that the ministry is encouraging the use of digital/electronic ways for homework to be given and received.
Explaning some of the guidelines, Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said that it is important that anyone who is sick, including the staff, does not go to school.
Parents should check their children’s temperature before they go to school, Gauci said. Any children with symptoms should not be sent to school, so as to reduce any possible contagion.
Gauci emphasised the need to continue wearing masks and the practice of social distancing, and the number of students in class should be kept at the minimum possible.
Bubbles should be created to keep the same students near each other as much as possible, so as to limit any possible transmission to a limited number, Gauci said.
Children aged three or less are not to wear masks, while children aged between 3 and 11 must wear masks in the common areas. All staff and children aged 11 and over must wear masks at all times.
She said that if a student or a staff member tests positive, it does not automatically mean that all the class will be placed in quarantine.
Protocols have also been established for school transport, with Gauci saying that windows should be kept open at all times and the names of students omn each bus will be taken to make contact tracing exercises easier in case one of the students contracts the virus.
Schools were closed in mid-March a few days after the first case of Coronavirus was registered in Malta.
You can watch the press conference below
In reply to a question made by this newsroom on whether the whole classroom will have to quarantine if an educator or student of the same class tests positive for COVID-19, Gauci said that in the case of a confirmed Coronavirus case in a school, the health authorities will ensure that contact tracing takes places, and a designated liaison officer, one per school, will carry out a risk assessment.
She highlighted that record keeping of students is crucial so that it will be easier to handle contact tracing.
Fabri said that although the classrooms in our country are what they are when it comes to size, the health authorities are insisting that social distancing is respected as much as possible. This will mean that certain spaces within schools which are not usually used will be used temporarily in order to create a small classroom or group.
Asked on what the plan is for kindergartens Gauci remarked that we are currently working on a separate plan for these students as their situation is different.
In an answer to a question on what will be done in situations in which parents chose not to send their children to school, Fabri explained that due to this extraordinary situation we are all living, the Ministry will be amending the policy related to attendance. Our aim is to support and help families as much as possible during such a time.
Speaking about the class bubbles, Fabri remarked that it is very important that students are protected within groups as much as possible. One must understand that every school is different, but the basic principle remains the same for all schools – both primary and secondary schools.
Fabri said that this will work by adopting a number of measures such as students being assigned to a classroom, rather than teachers being assigned a classroom in order to mitigate any risks and to keep the group constantly the same as much as possible.
Asked on whether there is enough transport to cater for all the students with the new guidelines, since there needs to be a lower number of students on each bus, Fabri stated that further information on this matter will be provided once the full guidelines are issued. However, the main concept of the procedure is that children who use the school bus will always remain with the same group.
In addition, bus operators will be responsible to properly sanitize the van after every journey.
He appealed to parents to check their children for any symptoms before being put on the bus in the morning. Also, all those who live within 1.5km of school will be encouraged to walk or have their parents collect them.
With regards to homework, students will continue to have their homework assigned to them as usual, but teachers will be encouraged to give digital homework to limit the possibility of infection from exchanging workbooks.
Gauci highlighted that if children have any COVID-19 symptoms or if parents are in doubt, it is important that they are not sent school in order to avoid any sort of risk.
Students who develop symptoms on the way to school, will be kept in a “COVID bay” until they are picked up.
In addition, schools will open earlier this scholastic year in order to avoid the situation in which parents drop their children off all the same time as social distancing remains very important even outside of schools.
Gauci said that desks within classrooms will have to maintain a mandatory 1.5 metres apart in order to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
The full guidelines will be issued later today or tomorrow.
MUT reacts, says position on reopening on schools will depend on implementation of protocols
In reaction, the Malta Union of Teachers said that the information given was necessary for everyone to be informed about the standards that will apply.
The union said that the publication was just one step in the long walk that still needs to take place. It said that the protocols need intensive discussions to be implemented, and that this will be a challenge.
This process, the union said, will be crucial for the health and security of educators and students.
The union said that its position regarding the opening of schools will depend on the implementation of protocols and on how the pandemic situation will be in the coming weeks. It will remain in contact with its members over the coming weeks to listen to them and provide information