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EDUCATION

Outdoor lessons and smaller classes: how Italy’s schools will change when they reopen in September

Italy's schools are to reopen on September 14th, the government has announced, with “at least a billion euros” in funding to implement new safety measures.

Outdoor lessons and smaller classes: how Italy's schools will change when they reopen in September
Everything will be ok': children in Italy have been away from school longer than any others in Europe. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The government on Friday reached an agreement with Italy's regional and local authorities on reopening schools in September, after they were closed in March due to the the coronavirus crisis.

A first draft of the new guidelines was rejected by regional authorities and the national association of headteachers, who asked for clearer instructions and more financial aid.

“We are allocating one billion euros for extra investments in schools to make them more modern, safe and inclusive,” announced Prime Minister Giueppe Conte at a press conference on June 26.

“The funding “must allow us to start again in September in complete safety.” he said.

Conte and Lucia Azzolina, the education minister, announced new guidelines to be put in place when schools reopen, which include seating pupils one metre apart, classes being divided into smaller learning groups, and staggered arrival times for students.

 

Schools are also asked to open for lessons on Saturdays, though many Italian schools do this already.

Distance learning, which was used at all levels during lockdown, would only be an option for high school students in the new academic year, said education minister Azzolina.

“We also want to take school out of school; we'll take students to cinemas, theatres, and museums, and make sure that they breathe culture. We can also take the little ones to the park, when the weather allows, for lessons,” she said.

READ ALSO: Can outdoor teaching enable Italy to safely reopen schools?

“We are giving clear but flexible solutions,” said Azzolina, adding: “For safety you need space, we can't go back to chicken coop classes.”

The €1 billion in funding is intended to cover, among other things, the employment of 50,000 extra teachers and temporary school staff.

“Schools have never seen this much money,” she said, adding that teachers would receive a bonus in July of between €80 and €100, in what she described as a “recognition they deserve, because the salaries of Italian teachers are among the lowest of Europe.”

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COVID-19 RULES

Explained: What are Italy’s Covid rules for schools in September?

After Italy's education ministry confirmed Covid vaccination and mask mandates in schools will not be renewed by September, here's a look at the health precautions in place as school restarts.

Explained: What are Italy’s Covid rules for schools in September?

Italy’s education ministry has indicated that most pandemic-related precautions will be dropped in the new academic year – including rules requiring teachers to be vaccinated and masks to be worn at all times in class.

An official memo sent out to schools ahead of the 2022-23 school year confirmed that these and other health measures in place last year will expire on August 31st.

READ ALSO: Italy’s unvaccinated teachers to return to class as Covid rules ease

No replacement protocol for schools has been announced – despite the fact that health experts agree the pandemic is by no means over.

For now, it looks as though Italian students of all ages will return to class next month with few health measures in place.

However, this doesn’t mean there will be no precautions taken in schools at all. 

Masking requirements and vaccination rules will no longer be in place as Italy begins the new school year.
File photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Schools are still required to apply a set of ‘strategic indications’ published by Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS), intended to contain the spread of coronavirus at times when the risk of contagion is lower, and to prepare schools to respond quickly in case infection rates surge.

These rules (see them here in full) state:

  • Students are allowed to attend class except in the case of fever or a positive Covid test result;
  • Pupils or staff “at risk of developing severe forms of Covid” need to wear FFP2 masks;
  • Schools should ensure correct hand hygiene and “respiratory etiquette” (covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, using paper tissues, etc);
  • “Frequent air changes” should be ensured in school buildings, as well as regular cleaning, and extra cleaning “in the presence of one or more confirmed cases”.

The health ministry may also bring in further health measures later in the year if deemed necessary, according to Italian media reports.

But for now, there’s no one to make the rules: Italy currently has a caretaker government in place as a month-long election campaign starts this week. 

Any new pandemic-related restrictions this autumn, in schools or elsewhere, will depend on the inclinations of the next government – which won’t take office until October at the very earliest.

Italy’s schools restart in mid-September, with the exact dates varying by region.

Find more information about Italy’s Covid-19 health restrictions on the Italian health ministry’s website (available in English).

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