An agreement was reached on Tuesday between Spain’s central government and the country’s regions that the upcoming school term would begin as normal on January 10, despite the unprecedented levels of coronavirus infections currently being registered in Spain. Speaking after the meeting, Health Minister Carolina Darias said that finding consensus “has not been easy, but it has been possible.”
Education Minister Pilar Alegría added a message of calm for families ahead of the return to the classroom next week: “Yes to prudence, but no to scaremongering.” The minister added that during the pandemic in Spain, schools have “not exported cases, but have imported them from other environments.”
Joan Subirats, the new universities minister, who was making his first appearance in the role before the press, reinforced this idea. “We need to avoid the sensation of constant change in the health situation, we need to generate certainty and a feeling of protection,” he said. “I’m aware of this because this last semester I have seen it myself. Universities are ready to deal with this issue.” The Catalan politician was teaching a course at the Barcelona Autonomous University late last year after leaving the city council.
According to the agreement reached today, all classes will be face-to-face and will get started again on Monday. Madrid, where there have been no extra coronavirus restrictions over the holiday season – meaning that major events such as raves and other parties have taken place – recently floated the idea of home schooling for older students given the high rates of coronavirus infections. Murcia had also announced similar plans, but in the end both these regions agreed to allow for the semester to begin normally.
Teachers’ unions and parents’ associations had called for a return to face-to-face teaching, with some even threatening protests should schools not reopen or home schooling be mandated once more.
For now, classes in elementary schools will still have to be fully quarantined when a positive coronavirus cases is detected. The government is studying the possibility of removing this protocol, but according to a spokesperson from the Education Ministry, “there is still a way to go.” Masks will continue to be obligatory for all students aged six and over.
After the initial national lockdown in the spring of 2020, and the closure of schools, the new term began as normal in September of that same year. Since then, there has been no blanket shutdown of schools and universities, although there have been sporadic quarantines of classes and some entire education centers due to coronavirus cases or outbreaks.
According to government forecasts, more than 90% of school children aged five to 11 will have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of January, something that is expected to slow the rise in cases after the return to school.
In the last week of the semester in December, 1.3% of classes were in quarantine – the worst figure since schools reopened in September 2020. It is thought that this figure will be exceeded now with the explosive spread of the omicron variant.
As for universities and secondary education schools, entire classes will not be sent home to isolate when positive cases are detected given that the majority of students in theses groups are vaccinated, meaning quarantine is not necessary under current protocols.