ATHENS – School children in the final year of high school will be returning to their classrooms from Monday after two full months after schools were shut down to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on March 11. Authorities stress, however, that the return is not "business as usual" but based on a strict protocol and a number of rules, which will include frequent hand washing and observing a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from others at all times.
The National Authority for Public Health (NODH) has published a lengthy list of instructions that affect all aspects of school operation, from pupils and teachers to parents and guardians, while the first class on the first and second day will be devoted to teaching students the new hygiene rules.
Among the envisioned changes, in order to avoid phenomena of congestion and crowding, is the scrapping of morning assembly, while the maximum number of students in each class will be 15. Larger classes have been split and students will attend on alternate days, with half coming on Monday-Wednesday-Friday and the other half on Tuesday-Thursday and then switching on the following week.
According to Education Minister Niki Kerameus, 66 pct of third-year general lyceum students will be able to attend classes daily since class sizes are under 15 pupils, while the same percentage for vocational lyceum students is 74 pct. There will only be one student per desk and they will be seated so as to avoid proximity, while classrooms will have natural ventilation and be cleaned twice a day. Breaks will also be held separately for each class, with each class going to a different area in the school yard, no games and canteens will be shut.
In addition, schools are required to provide adequate antiseptics, disinfectants and PPE, liquid soap and hand towels in the bathrooms and to observe the NOPH protocol in case of Covid-19 symptoms in the school community. Schools will not shut down if a case is found, however, though the class involved will have to stay away from the school for 10 days and the infected pupil for at least three days after symptoms subside.
Schools will stay open until June 12, while there will be no final exams for middle and high schools, with end-of-year marks based on course work. The nationwide university entrance examinations will begin on June 15, while the closure of special schools has been extended.
Private tutoring institutes or "frontistiria" will also be permitted to open in line with the resumption of the operation of schools, following the same rules and hygiene protocols, with final-year school students returning on May 11 and other high school and middle school students, including foreign language classes, from May 18. The ministry is, however, recommending the continuation of distance learning.