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EDUCATION

Covid-19: These are the health measures for Italy’s schools from September

Will your kids have to wear face masks in class? Do they need a coronavirus test before they go back? Here are the measures the Italian government is bringing in for the new school year. (Updated on August 28th.)

Covid-19: These are the health measures for Italy's schools from September
Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP

Italian schools are set to reopen in September after they were closed in March due to the coronavirus crisis. But things are expected to be very different in the new academic year.

Most regions' schools will go back on September 14th, while the Bolzano region restarts classes on the 7th. However some regions including Puglia and Calabria have delayed reopening until the 24th.

READ ALSO: Italy warned schools 'must reopen at any cost' despite new coronavirus outbreaks

The Ministry of Education published a list of new safety protocols for schools earlier this month, which Education Minister Lucia Azzolina promised will protect the health of students and teachers, and will also improve education in the long term – notably by bringing an end to overcrowded, “chicken coop classes”.

Teachers' unions have agreed to the proposals, meaning that schools can begin applying them before the new term starts on September 14th.

The guidance leaves a lot to each head teacher's discretion – and it certainly doesn't answer all the questions that children, parents and teachers may have about resuming class after more than six months.

Some uncertainty remains however, and ministers are expected to make further announcements clarifying some points ahead of reopening.

For now, here's what we do know.

Will kids and teachers have to take coronavirus tests?

There's no national rule that you have to get tested before returning to school.

But the government has promised to give all teachers – public and private – the possibility of taking a free, voluntary coronavirus test either before the new term or during it.

It says it will also carry out periodic testing on students, though on selected samples rather than en masse. Mostly, though, the government is relying on parents to monitor their children's health and keep kids home if their temperature rises above 37.5 degrees C or if they show any signs of respiratory illness.

What happens if there's a positive case at school?

If a pupil or staff member tests positive, “there may be a temporary closure, but then the school will reopen,” Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Sky Tg24 on Tuesday.
 
Sileri said “everyone” at the school would be tested in the case of a positive result to a swab.
 
According to the rules, each school must have a room where suspected cases can be immediately isolated, but the head teacher does not have the
power to decide whether or not to close the school or exacty which steps will be taken. That decision falls to local authorities.
 
Will online teaching continue?

The government is leaving schools the option of continuing to teach some of their lessons online – but not all of them.

Schools can alternate in-person lessons with remote teaching, the protocol says, though elsewhere the government has stressed the importance of getting all pupils – especially younger ones – back in class as much as possible. 

Remote teaching is most likely to remain a possibility for older students, who may find they spend fewer full days on campus.

Will students have to wear face masks?

Face masks are mandatory for all children over the age of six when they're on school premises, except for in gym class, when eating in canteens and answering a teacher.

Teachers, other staff and parents will be required to wear face masks inside the school premises.

READ ALSO: Italy promises to reopen schools with outdoor lessons and smaller classes


High school students take a socially distanced final exam. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Will classrooms be socially distanced?

Yes: the safety protocol stresses the need to ensure a distance of at least one metre (about 3 feet) between pupils throughout school premises. 

It's left up to each school to decide how to arrange their classrooms accordingly – though the government has put out a tender for more than two million one-person desks, which are hoped to remove the need for students to wear masks in class.

Schools are still awaiting the arrival of the desks. But some schools may not receive their desk deliveries before October, as factories producing them arre reportedly working around the clock ahead of the reopening date.

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

 

While a committee of experts previously advised against teaching in gyms and courtyards, saying they should be reserved for sport and aren't suited to other lessons, the government has left the choice up to schools.

Giving lessons off the premises will be permitted, though only in places that local authorities or owners certify as safe. Schools will be offered funds to rent additional space, Education Minister Azzolina says.

Schools will have to designate routes through hallways to avoid crowding, and students won't be allowed to linger in the corridors or other shared spaces.

Will class sizes be cut?

Azzolina says it's a priority to end what she calls “chicken coop classes” with too many pupils per room, though the government hasn't set a national limit on class sizes.

It will hire an extra 40,000 permanent teachers for Italian public schools, Azzolina has promised, mainly at the nursery and primary level.

Children in the earliest school years should be separated into small groups to serve as 'social bubbles', the government said in separate guidance for kindergartens. 

READ ALSO: Social bubbles and no toys from home: How Italy will reopen kindergartens


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

How will the school run work?

Entrances and exits must be kept separate to reduce crowding, and schools can opt to stagger entry times: in Rome, for instance, local authorities have designated two phases for schools to admit pupils, one at 8:30 am and the other at 9:30 am. 

Only one parent or guardian at a time should accompany their child to school. And schools are advised to keep a register of everyone who accesses the premises for contact tracing purposes.

The government doesn't require schools to check pupils' temperature upon arrival, though some may choose to do it anyway.

Will school lunches be served?

School cafeterias can continue to operate, but may have to stagger meal times for the sake of social distancing. Schools are advised to allow kids to eat in their own classrooms if necessary.

Buffets are banned: food should be served in single portions, on separate trays and with disposable plates, cups and cutlery.

How will schools look after pupils' mental health?

Psychological support is an “indispensable precaution” for pupils and teachers alike as they readjust to returning to school, the Education Ministry says.

It has signed an agreement with the National Order of Psychologists to offer assistance with stress, anxiety, isolation and other common mental health issues, though it's not clear exactly what the arrangement involves.

Will schools be ready in time? 

The latest guidance doesn't clear up all the uncertainties for schools, by any means. Among the ongoing issues raised by unions are how schools will manage to social distance with the space available and a shortage of janitors to handle the carry out the extra cleaning required.

The Education Ministry says it has set up a help line for schools to seek further guidance, which will be available from August 24th – three weeks before schools reopen.

In total it has budgeted €2.9 billion to cover the adjustments.

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EDUCATION

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

With Italy’s schools reopening in September, parents are beginning the annual rush to stock up on essential supplies. New figures reveal families will have to shell out more this year.

Back to school in Italy: how much will it cost, and how can you save money?

As the last families return to their homes at the tail-end of the so-called grande rientro, Italian pupils are preparing to file back into the classroom for the start of the 2022/2023 school year. 

For those who aren’t too familiar with the Italian education system, all public schools are managed by regional authorities, meaning return dates generally vary by region.

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

For instance, this time around, back-to-school dates will range from September 5th to September 19th, with children from Trentino-Alto Adige being the first back in front of the blackboard. (See all the dates here).

Regardless of the dates pupils are expected back at their desks, the purchase of school supplies and textbooks is going to deal many Italian families a harder economic blow this year.

According to estimates from Italian consumer association Codacons, the prices of regular school supplies (backpacks, notebooks, pencil cases, stationery, etc.) have increased by as much as seven percent compared to last year. 

Prices, Codacons explains, have been mainly driven up by “greater energy costs for manufacturers” and “higher transportation fees” associated with the European fuel crisis. 

Students outside the Italo Calvino Institute in Turin, Italy.

Backpacks are the most expensive item in the back-to-school shopping list, with some branded articles going for as much as 200 euros. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

So how much should Italian families prepare to shell out?

According to Codacons, expenses for school supplies alone might add up to a whopping 588 euros per student

As usual, the most expensive item on the back-to-school list is the backpack, with some brand-name articles currently going for as much as 200 euros.

READ ALSO: Why Italians have a hard time learning English – and how things could improve

Significant expenses are also required for pencil cases or pouches (branded items may go for as much as 60 euros) and school diaries (around 30 euros for the most sought-after brands). 

On top of the above-mentioned school supplies (corredo scolastico in Italian), families will also have to pay for textbooks. 

While elementary school textbooks are supplied free of charge across the entire country, costs for middle school (scuola media) or high school (scuola superiore) textbooks generally fall between 300 and 600 euros, with prices largely varying according to the year and school children happen to be in. 

All in all then, Codacons estimates that the purchase of school supplies, textbooks and technical items (set triangles, compasses, goniometers, etc.) might set Italian families back as much as 1,300 euros per student this time around. 

However, as the prospect of this year’s back-to-school stangata (financial blow) gives rise to some much-justified concern among parents, Codacons and other consumer groups such as Altroconsumo and Tuttoscuola have already provided families with some useful advice on how to save up on both supplies and textbooks.

How to save money on school supplies

  • Avoid branded items. Children are easily influenced by TV and/or online ads and might push to get the most popular and fashionable articles on the market. However, off-brand items generally have the same features and durability as their more well-known counterparts and might go for 40 percent less.
  • Buy from a local supermarket rather than a stationery shop. At this time of the year, many supermarket chains offer very favourable deals on school kits, with prices being sometimes 30 percent lower than in specialist shops.
  • Don’t buy everything at once. Any item that is not immediately necessary can be bought at a later stage.
  • Wait for teachers’ guidelines, especially when it comes to buying material for art or geometry classes. Knowing exactly what items are required will save you from spending money on wrong or unnecessary articles.

A student completing a written test.

Italian consumer groups have advised families to avoid branded items when it comes to purchasing school supplies. Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

How to save money on textbooks

  • Buy second-hand textbooks. Purchasing libri usati might allow you to save up to 50 percent on school books. However, it’s usually best to check the state of the items – especially their exercise pages – prior to buying. Also, keep in mind that past editions might no longer be accepted.
  • Loan textbooks directly from the school. Not all institutes do this but some allow for various forms of comodato d’uso whereby families can loan textbooks for the entire length of the school year and then return them when classes end in June.
  • Look out for financial incentives. All schools set aside a budget to help low-income families with the purchase of textbooks. Incentives usually come in the forms of vouchers partly covering the price of the required items. Vouchers are allocated on the basis of a household’s economic situation, which in Italy is calculated as ISEE (Equivalent Financial Position Indicator or Indicatore della Situazione Economica Equivalente).
  • Shop online or in supermarkets. Some supermarkets and online marketplaces sell textbooks at favourable prices, with discounts usually ranging between 10 and 20 percent.
  • Buy digital textbooks. Again, not all schools allow this but in some institutes families have the option to buy the required set of textbooks in digital form. Students can then access the books via a pc, tablet or e-reader.
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