EXPLAINED: Spain’s back-to-school Covid plans for September 2021

EXPLAINED: Spain's back-to-school Covid plans for September 2021
Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP
Schools in Spain may still have around a month left of classes before the summer break, but the government has already announced plans for the return to school in September.

The new rules set out what safety and hygiene measures, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, will be established for the next school year 2021-2022.

A joint meeting between the Inter territorial Council of Health and Education was held yesterday, followed by a press conference given by the Minister of Education, Isabel Celaá, and the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias.

The main difference for next year is that class sizes will be allowed to return to pre-pandemic levels. This means that there will be around 25 pupils per class, instead of the limit of 20, and at primary school level in certain regions this number might reach up to 30.

This revert back to normal numbers means that schools will be able to dispense with the extra teachers they had to hire during the pandemic, therefore reducing costs. In total around the country, this numbered around 35,000 extra teachers.

While there will be a loss of kindergarten and primary school teachers, the new agreement also states that all secondary school students should attend class on a daily basis next year, meaning that more teachers might be needed for those age groups.

The extra teaches needed during the pandemic have largely been financed by the educational Covid fund, of €1.6 billion, which was approved last summer.

Social and class ‘bubbles’ will also remain in place, meaning that like now, students in the same class do not have to keep distance from each other, however they cannot mingle or interact with those from other classes in the hallways or playgrounds.

New back-to-school rules for September. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

If the case numbers continue to improve however and the scenario that the Health Ministry has dubbed “the new normal” is reached (which includes indicators such as a 14-day incidence of less than 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and Covid patients occupying less than 5 percent of ICU beds), the various ‘bubble’ groups will be able to mix together in the playground, with others from the same year group.

For secondary school, the government’s proposal states that students should keep 1.2 meters apart from each other, instead of 1.5 meters as in the current year.

However, during the press conference, it was announced that much will also stay the same this coming school year. The government has said that there will be continued use of masks in schools, as well as strict times when certain age groups can enter and exit the school. Age group shifts will also continue at lunch times and in the playground. Ventilation of the classrooms will also be maintained.

The epidemiologist Quique Bassat, a member of the Spanish Association of Pediatric Medicine, who advised the Ministry of Health in the design of the new rules for next year, told El País: “The measures that we believe are most important are maintained, which are above all those based on the use of masks indoors and ventilation in classrooms. It is true that the teacher-to-student ratio and interpersonal distances are reduced, but we believe that what is proposed is reasonable and that it will help to prevent infections among children and adolescents, who will presumably be the last to be vaccinated”.

Minister of Education Celaá also indicated that the government will transfer €10 billion from the European recovery fund to invest in health, education and social policies for the upcoming school year.

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