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

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EXPLAINED: Spain's back-to-school Covid plans for September 2021
A teacher escorts students to their classroom on the first day of classes for the new academic year amid the coronavirus pandemic in Barcelona on September 14, 2020. - The first EU nation to surpass half a million coronavirus infections, Spain's decision to pass management of the pandemic to its regions has politicised public health and hobbled its fight against Covid-19, experts say. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Spain’s Education Minister has laid out her department’s plans for the 2021-2022 school year, with class numbers set to return to pre-pandemic levels but no requirement for teachers or pupils to be vaccinated.


The Covid Delta variant hasn’t changed the initial plans drafted by Spain’s Ministry of Education in May for the return to the classrooms in September 2021.

This was the main conclusion drawn by the country’s new Education Minister Pilar Alegría during a radio interview on Cadena Ser on Monday August 8th, where she highlighted how Spain’s advanced vaccination campaign was allowing for a gradual return to normality in schools across the country.

The majority of Spain’s regions are now vaccinating their older teens and at least six autonomous communities have started inoculating 12 to 15 year olds, with vaccinations for young children still dependent on approval by the European Medicines Agency. 



Full return to classrooms 

With this in mind, Alegría stressed that the plan is still for in-person class attendance to be 100 percent when children return to school, mostly in the second week of September. 

According to the minister, it won’t be necessary to force teachers to get vaccinated as “practically all” have received their full vaccination. 

This means that there will be around 25 pupils per class, instead of last school year’s limit of 20, and at primary school level this number might reach up to 30 in certain regions.

ESO and Bachillerato (secondary and high school) students will also be expected to make a full-time return to the classroom, rather than the split between in-person and online tuition they received the previous school year.

This return back to normal numbers means that schools will no longer need to employ the extra teachers they had to hire during the pandemic, thus reducing costs. In total around Spain, this numbered around 35,000 extra teachers.

While there will be a loss of kindergarten and primary school teachers, the new agreement that states that all secondary school students should attend class on a daily basis from September means more teachers may be needed for those age groups.

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



Class bubbles 

Social and class ‘bubbles’ will also remain in place during the next year in kindergartens and primary schools, meaning that just as during the previous year young children in the same class won’t have to keep a distance from each other.

However, they still won’t be allowed to mingle or interact with those from other classes in the hallways or playgrounds.

If local case numbers fall to a fortnightly infection rate below 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the various ‘bubble’ groups will be able to mix together on the playground with others from the same year.

For secondary schools, high schools and professional training centres (FP), the Spanish government’s proposal states that students should keep 1.2 meters apart from each other, instead of 1.5 meters during the 2020-2021 school year.



Masks and other safety measures remain

The government has said that there will be continued use of masks in schools for pupils aged six or older, 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. Proper ventilation of classrooms will also be a priority.

Personal hygiene measures as well the thorough disinfection of surfaces will continue to be reinforced and there will still have to be a Covid-19 coordinator at each educational centre to ensure the rules are followed. 


Will Spanish schools' new Covid measures be enough to prevent future outbreaks?

“The measures that we believe are most important are maintained, which are above all those based on the use of masks indoors and airing of classrooms,” Spanish epidemiologist Quique Bassat, who advised the Ministry of Health in the design of the new rules, told El País back in May.

“It’s 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, the last to be vaccinated”.

However, with the emergence of Delta as the dominant variant in Spain, Bassat has acknowledged that the fact that it's "much more contagious" than previous strains means health and educational authorities have to be "far more alert about outbreaks". 

Other concerned epidemiologists and parents believe the prospect of packed classrooms with poor ventilation does not bode well when the country's current fortnightly infection rate for 12 to 19 year olds is well above 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.  

Although a joint meeting between Spain’s 17 regions and the national Education Department in May saw a unanimous vote in favour of the measures, educational authorities from across the country will meet again in late August to confirm the final set of rules for the next school year.

READ ALSO: Q&A - What happens when there is a Covid-19 outbreak at a school in Spain?


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