CORONAVIRUS

For Spain’s youngest students, no going back to school this academic year

Regional education chiefs reject recommendations by PM Pedro Sánchez to open up classrooms for children up to six years of age when Phase 2 of the deescalation plan goes into effect

Education Minister Isabel Celaá during the meeting with regional education chiefs.
Education Minister Isabel Celaá during the meeting with regional education chiefs.EFE

Spain’s regional education chiefs on Thursday said they have no plans to reopen public early education classrooms – for children up to six years of age – before the end of this academic year.

The move rejects a proposal made two weeks ago by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), suggesting that parts of Spain moving into Phase 2 of the coronavirus deescalation plan could open up their classrooms for young children whose parents cannot work from home. This phase will go into effect on May 25 in parts of Spain with better coronavirus indicators.

“As long as things don’t go back to normal on the economic front, it is evident that there are going to be problems on the job front,” said Sánchez on April 29. “There will be cases where both parents have to go to work and cannot leave their kids with anyone. Grandparents cannot do this job because they are a risk group.”

But following a meeting with representatives of the Education Ministry on Thursday, the regional chiefs said that they don’t believe it would be possible to maintain social distancing rules with such young children. The sole exception is the Basque Country, which last week presented a plan to reopen education centers for children up to two years of age.

Around 8.2 million schoolchildren have been following their lessons from home since March, when a lockdown was imposed. Under the emergency provisions contemplated in the state of alarm that went into effect on March 14, the Health Ministry had the power to shut down schools out of public health concerns, but the deescalation plan makes it possible to reopen them during Phase 2 for children up to six years of age whose parents can prove that they cannot work remotely.

A group of expert advisors put together by the Spanish Pediatric Association last month recommended that schools stay closed until September. “The end of the confinement measures will not begin until well into May, and given that this will nearly be at the end of the school year, there is agreement that it is not worth the risk,” said Quique Bassat, an epidemiologist who is part of the group.

“When Phase 2 is activated, we will be in a context of a health emergency and not in a new normality,” said the Valencia education department in a release on Thursday. “That is why it is not possible to guarantee, in this age range, basic safety measures such as the necessary social distancing between students and also between students and educators.”

This is the third time that regional and central education officials hold a virtual meeting to address the issue of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. In Spain, powers over education are devolved to the regions.

Older students

There is a difference of opinion regarding the return of older students. When Phase 2 goes into effect, last-year students of secondary and post-secondary education will be allowed to go to school on a voluntary basis in groups of 15 at the most. Most of the regions are in favor of organizing some activities for these students, especially those preparing for their university entrance examinations.

Regional chiefs were vaguer about primary school students, although Catalonia has expressed a desire to offer some form of in-person initiatives, particularly those aimed at “emotional” support. The Andalusian education department said its students will not go back to class before September.

English version by Susana Urra.

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