Colour-coded system for school start in September

Summary

A system has been worked out for youngsters returning to school in the autumn, with primary school pupils expected in class every day

Code yellow

Education ministers from Belgium’s three language communities have set out plans for how children will return to school in September. “The coronavirus will remain a reality in the next school year,” said Flemish education minister Ben Weyts. “Schools, pupils and parents have a right to a clear framework.”

The guiding principle of this framework, he added, is: “All schools open, for all years, for all children.” Not all pupils will be in school every day, however.

The plan is made up of four colour-coded levels, based on the evolution of the virus over time. In a “green” scenario, where a vaccine is available and/or widespread immunity has been acquired, schools will operate as they did before the outbreak.

“Yellow” – a low risk – would mean the virus is still present, but with a relatively low number of new infections. Unless there is an escalation in infections, schools will open in September under code yellow.

“Orange” means a systematic spreading of the virus, while “red” indicates a major, widespread outbreak.

All day, every day for primaries

Primary and secondary schools are being treated differently, as experts widely agreed that children 12 years old and younger are less affected by the virus and less contagious. In all four of the colour-coded scenarios, primary and nursery school pupils would be expected to attend school five days a week.

The same is true for secondary school pupils only in a code green. This is currently considered to be unlikely until a vaccine is available. A yellow scenario will see secondary school pupils attending school four days a week, with distance learning on Wednesday.

If the situation worsens to orange or red, secondary school classes will be halved in size, with pupils attending two days a week (Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday) and expected to follow remote teaching methods for the rest of the week.

We must be able to move between different phases without improvising in terms of what needs to be done

- Minister Ben Weyts

Every colour code comes with a set of regulations in terms of social distancing and hygiene. The concept of “bubbles” – individual classes – will remain in place. If a pupil or teacher tests positive, the rest of the bubble must stay home. Activities outside school will be allowed in a code yellow, but will be cancelled if the situation becomes orange or red.

If a code changes, it will change across the entire country, not just in Flanders, for instance, or in an individual school. The idea is that education be uniform across the regions and language communities.

“I realise that this is a big step and that there are a number of practical concerns that still need to be addressed,” said Weyts. “But this plan will allow schools to prepare for different scenarios. We must be able to move between different phases without improvising in terms of what needs to be done. School heads, teachers, pupils and parents all have the right to clear communication and stability. And children have the right to an education, preferably in the classroom.”

Photo: Thierry Roge/BELGA