Back to school dates are staggered across Italy’s regions, with more than 3,865,000 pupils in Abruzzo, Basilicata, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Lombardy, Piedmont, Umbria, Veneto, Valle d’Aosta and the province of Trento returning to class on Monday.
Schools have been open since September 6th for students in the autonomous province of Bolzano, and will reopen on Tuesday for those in Sardinia, on Wednesday for those in Campania, Liguria, Marche, Molise and Tuscany, on Thursday for those in Friuli Venezia Giulia and Sicily, and on September 20th for students in Calabria and Puglia.
As pupils prepared to head back into the classroom, education minister Patrizio Bianchi told Italian media on Sunday evening that the government would do everything in its power to ensure schools remain open, and has put a range of strategies in place to make this happen.
The most significant change this year is the requirement for school staff, external workers, and parents – basically anyone who isn’t a student – to show a green pass in order to gain access to school premises.
The new rule came into effect for school employees on September 1st, and was expanded on September 9th to include external workers such as cleaning company and canteen staff, as well as parents of schoolchildren.
The health certificate proves bearers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours. Unvaccinated individuals may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.
For privacy reasons, information on whether or not individual members of staff are vaccinated will not be shared with school management; however, Italy’s education minister Patrizio Bianchi said on Sunday that vaccination rates among school employees appeared to have exceeded 93%.
According to the Italian news site Fanpage.it, the Ministry of Education has developed a new ‘super app’ that will allow school principals and administrative staff to automate the process of checking that their staff are complying with the requirement.
Staff who are without passes for five days straight will be suspended and have their pay frozen, while non-staff members caught entering schools without the certificate face fines of up to €1,000.
Many of the safety measures that were in place previously will continue into the upcoming school year, including masks for everyone aged over six, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.
Schools will also have separate designated entrance and exit zones, and only one parent will be allowed to accompany their child directly outside the school building for drop offs and pick ups. Students’ temperatures will be taken as they leave at the end of the school day, but not on arrival.
In the event a teacher or student tests positive for Covid, a quarantine of seven days will be triggered for classmates who are vaccinated, and ten days for the unvaccinated, with affected students moving to distance learning and allowed back into the classroom only after receiving a negative antigen test result.
The question of whether the entire class will be required to quarantine or only the deskmates of the infected person will be left to the discretion of the local health authority, which the school must contact in case of an infection, reports Il Corriere della Sera.
Social distancing of one metre between each student is no longer a requirement in classrooms which lack the space, as long as other safety measures are observed. The Ministry of Education recommends keeping windows in classroom open, and some schools have invested in new ventilation systems, but it’s been left up to individual institutions to undertake such initiatives.
On Thursday, it was reported that Bianchi proposes to remove the mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes of schoolchildren in the coming weeks and months, despite warnings from some experts that such a move might be premature.
On Sunday the minister restated his ambition to remove mask mandates in classes where all attendees are fully vaccinated, saying “Let’s get started with the year and then we’ll do it, we’re working on the guidelines.”