School year to start online, except for children up to third grade and schools with fewer students

The new school year will start online, except for children up to third grade and schools with fewer students and small class sizes where the epidemiological situation is stable.

This was the Infectious Diseases Commission’s final proposal on the matter, and the decision was reached at a Government’s session on Tuesday.

Health Minister Venko Filipche told a press conference that the protocol doesn’t allow for more than 20 children in a classroom, at a 1,5 meter distance and wearing face masks. Teacers will need to be with the students at all times, whereas classes will begin ten minutes apart to prevent children gathering in the hallways and school entrances.

Filipche added that teaches have already been informed about the protocols which ensure a low risk of transmission of the virus.

The Health Minister pointed out that the virus incidence among the younger students is about 3.4%, they have very mild symptoms or are often asymptomatic carriers. However, parents will have the possibility to choose whether their children at that age would go to school or attend classes online, as some families have chronically ill members (parents, grandparents) or are in a high-risk category.

The second exception where children will go to school is in cases of schools with fewer number of students in places where the epidemiological situation is stable. In this case, municipalities would need to get approval after their requests are reviewed by the Ministries of Health and Education and the Government. Parents will also have the possibility to choose and make a decision.

“Despite the ultimate goal of having children back to school, as long as we’re faced with the virus, we must be extremely aware and cautious to lower the risk and make sure that the educational process is safe for the children, the teachers and families. The case for education is indisputable, but we shouldn’t neglect the health aspect and the risk of transmission in schools,” Filipche said.

Education Minister Arber Ademi noted that children up to the third grade will attend classes in schools as this is also important for their social emotional development.

“Except for these two exceptions, the rest of the students will attend classes online. The platform is being upgraded with video lectures, topics and materials in line with the curriculum. In the meantime, work is underway on a National Platform for Distance Learning together with the Ministry of Information Society and Administration,” Ademi said, adding that this has been a difficult decision reached after numerous consultations and an inclusive approach to the best solution.

The Education Minister noted that amendments to laws need to be made in terms of the beginning of the school year and the length of the classes, but in order to do this there needs to be a functional Parliament.