What will be the rules in Spain for kids returning to school?

Smaller class groups, lessons outdoors and coronavirus delegates are just some of the measures being discussed in Spain for children to be able to make a physical return to their classrooms next September.

What will be the rules in Spain for kids returning to school?
Photos: AFP

Spanish Education Minister Isabel Celaá met recently with her regional counterparts to agree on the necessary safety measures for the next school year, which will spell the return of face-to-face classes across Spain.

Spain’s educational de-escalation, which starts once an autonomous community enters Phase 2, has allowed regional authorities to reopen their educational facilities for some children (mainly 0 to 6 year-olds), although in most cases classes have continued to be carried out online.

Here are the measures which will be required in each educational facility in Spain for students to be able to physically return to their classrooms in September:

Smaller groups

For children up to the age of 10 (from kindergarten through to fourth grade of Primary school included) Spain’s central educational body has proposed groups of 15 children up to a maximum of 20 pupils.

They won’t be expected to keep the safety distance of 1.5 metres or wear a face mask unless they leave their classrooms or school area.

A maximum capacity per classroom hasn't been confirmed yet for pupils 11 and older, although Celaá has been quoted as saying that if there is no vaccine by September, “schools will have half of the students in the classrooms”. 

“This will mean some students will be taught in person and others online.”

Face masks and social distancing

Pupils aged 11 to 18 (fifth and sixth grade of primary school, secondary school and 'bachillerato') will have to keep a safety distance of at least 1.5 metres between each other .

Face masks will be compulsory when they can’t maintain this distance, but not when they are sitting at their desks.

More outdoor learning

Schools will prioritise the use of outdoor spaces for educational and leisure activities, rather than enclosed spaces such as classrooms.

Stricter hygiene

Students will be expected to wash their hands frequently and meticulously, reminded to avoid touching their nose, eyes and mouth, as well as told to only use disposable tissues.

Covid delegate

Each school or educational facility will have to have a ‘schoolyear start plan’ and contingency plans in place before September, as well as a staff member who is responsible for everything relating to Covid-19 and the handling of any infections.

More disinfection

Educational facilities should be cleaned at least once a day and toilets at least three times daily.

The more fresh air the better

Staff will be expected to ensure frequent ventilation of the school premises and to keep windows open as long as possible when the weather allows for it .

Dealing with symptoms quickly

If a pupil starts to develop coronavirus symptoms, they will be taken to an isolated space for individual use, if they’re a pupil they will have a face mask put on them, as will anyone who remains in their care, and their family will be contacted.

Staff members will call the closest health centre and in case of serious symptoms dial Spain’s emergency phone number 112 or the regional emergency number. 

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.