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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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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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