“Schools will be the last thing to close in the country,” Bianchi reportedly told the newspapers Corriere della Sera and Repubblica in interviews on Sunday evening.
“It is clearly written in the August 6th decree: if an outbreak is identified in an institution, that institution is isolated. If the contagion is in a classroom, you isolate the class,” he said.
“No longer will we see entire regions with classrooms closed because of Covid. We have chosen a structural approach so that we will never return to DAD (‘didattica a distanza‘, or distance learning).”
The minister noted that 93% of school staff across the country are now vaccinated, and that two thirds of 12-19 year-olds and 70% of 16-19 year-olds have received an initial dose.
Bianchi 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.”
In recent weeks, Italy’s government has unveiled its strategy for ensuring that pupils can learn in person, after constantly changing Covid restrictions kept them in and out of classrooms for much of the past 18 months.
Since September 1st, all school and university employees including teachers and support staff have been required to produce a green pass upon entering school premises.
On September 9th, that requirement was expanded to include external workers, such as cleaning and canteen staff, as well as parents picking up and dropping off schoolchildren on the premises.
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 employees may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.
School staff who fail to show their pass for five days straight will be suspended and have their pay frozen, while non-staff face fines of up to €1,000 for entering without the pass.
Many of the safety measures that were previously in place will continue into the coming school year, including masks for everyone aged over six, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases.
Schools will 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.
A new initiative for this school year is a trial of salivary coronavirus tests for under-12s – who are currently unable to get vaccinated – in selected schools across the country.
The scheme, which is designed by Italy’s Higher Institute of Health, will start with tests being performed by trained health personnel at school at the end of September. From November, parents will be asked to administer the tests and deliver them each morning to their child’s school, according to Corriere.
Areas of concern around the reopenings include the widespread use of public transport by students to get to and from school, as well as small classrooms in certain areas.
While the legal limit for class sizes in Italy is now set at 27 students, the size of some of the classrooms themselves has led to worries that some children will be learning in a “chicken coop” context, at a heightened risk of contagion.
In response to the concerns, Bianchi has said that the government is working with local and regional authorities on the issue of public transport, adding that permanent contracts have been provided to 58,900 teachers in order to reduce class sizes.
Schools have already 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.