Govt prepares plans to allow some students back to school
Children in a ‘critical stage of learning’ will probably be allowed to return to school in what will be a ‘gradual and slow’ process over the coming weeks, the Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi announced on Tuesday.
With just 10 weeks remaining before the end of the academic year Mr Licudi acknowledged the “immense challenges” ahead as officials grapple with the task of implementing a slow and measured return to school life for some students.
But most pupils, Mr Licudi added, will not return to school before the summer, with the focus on those in key stages of their education.
A “road map out of lockdown” outlining the slow reintegration of those students is being developed by the Department of Education.
The road map is currently focusing on the return of children in a crucial stage of learning as the lockdown eases, with the majority of children set to continue with home learning.
This plan is not set to begin for several weeks, with the lockdown in Gibraltar recently extended until May 22.
Each step will be followed by a “prudent pause”, Mr Licudi said, to ensure a safe return.
Four key principles have prioritised the safety and security of students and staff as well as the “community at large” they look forward to a slow return.
But Mr Licudi stressed, there will not be a “return to normality anytime soon.”
“We have not yet taken the first step for a return to school and it will still be several weeks before we do,” he said.
“During this term we expect to take two steps with three week pauses in between.”
His intention is to continue with the school calendar as is, with half days and the end of term date unchanged, but this could change at any time.
“No-one quite knows what is around the corner with this pandemic,” Mr Licudi said.
He added that for many children the return to school will not happen this academic year.
But for those in crucial stages of their learning, Mr Licudi said, it was “critical” for them to return and continue their studies so they are ready for the “next stage of learning in September.”
“It will be clear from what I have said that a gradual, slow approach with appropriate pauses between each step will not result in a return to school for all children, nor, indeed, for the majority of children,” he said.
“Most children will, therefore, not be returning to school before the end of the summer term.”
For those who are invited back, strict social distancing precautions will be followed, with class sizes whittled down to avoid a spread.
Children returning to school will be split between morning and afternoon sessions, with an aim for so sufficient room in the schools for small classes.
It is hoped this precaution will allow for the rules on social distancing to be observed.
Adding to this, children will also be expected to bring their own supplies to avoid sharing with classmates.
“We are not out of the woods yet even if we start to take steps to ease some of the restrictions,” Mr Licudi said.
“Every step that we take will be reviewed on a constant basis as we monitor the effect of that step and we ensure that the conditions for unlocking continue to be met.”
“Just as we have all made huge efforts to stay at home and stay safe, it will be necessary for everyone to cooperate as we start to take, small, tentative and gradual steps out of confinement.”
“Whilst all this takes place, our advice will continue to be that unless you absolutely have to go out you should stay at home.”
“And if it is necessary to go out, make sure that you observe the rules on social distancing and hand washing as these have been shown to be the best measures to protect yourselves, and others, from the virus.”
Mr Licudi added have been masks are recommended for use indoors where social distancing cannot be observed.
“We have made masks available in the four facilities that we have open for use by those persons who wish to do in the circumstances described by [Director of Public Health] Dr Bhatti – indoors where social distancing cannot observed,” Mr Licudi said.
For those not returning to school, they will continue with home learning and select schools will remain open for child care supervision, for those parents that have no one to leave their children with while at work.
Extended hours for child care supervision will also continue.
Mr Licudi added a letter will be sent out to parents once the specific arrangements have been made.