The Federal Education Council has authorised the re-opening of classrooms in educational institutions, subject to the discretion of each district, Education Minister Nicolás Trotta confirmed on Thursday.
The return of face-to-face teaching will be based on a system of epidemiological “traffic lights” measuring risk whereby only a green light can permit schools to reopen, the minister announced.
The council’s approval of the measure was unanimous, Trotta told the press following a videoconference meeting with his provincial colleagues nationwide.
Effectively, the decision means that the national government will no longer have the last word in authorising the protocols permitting schoolchildren to return to classrooms. That responsibility now lies with each district, subject to the “traffic lights” scheme approved on Thursday by the federal council.
The decision, however, does not mean that all children and teenagers will be returning to class anytime soon, and most certainly not as things were before the Covid-19 pandemic. Only reduced groups of students in the final years of primary or secondary school, or those attending university, will be permitted access, even then attending in shifts.
Green, yellow, red
Trotta explained that a green light required not only a low risk of contagion in a district but also buildings being in fit condition among nine points of criteria.
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A yellow light with intermediate risk would permit an educational "relinking" of teachers and pupils, but without classes.
Such will be the case in Buenos Aires City, the nation’s capital, where, starting next Tuesday, students in the seventh grade of primary and the fifth year of secondary within public education will be allowed to return to their schools but not to classrooms – they are to participate in activities of “educational accompaniment,” along with their teachers. Meanwhile, activities at sports centres will continue for the 6,500 children in the City with the least contact with their schools.
A red light with high risk means that the district in question will have to wait for its epidemiological situation to improve before any return to school.
Trotta detailed that "the level of risk will be determined by each district" according to objective parameters, taking into account the figures for contagion over the last fortnight, compared with the total number of cases in the previous two weeks.
"We have to learn to co-exist with Covid-19 giving priority to healthcare," argued the minister, taking questions about the change in government strategy."
Trotta said that Formosa, San Luis and La Pampa have already returned to classes in classrooms, with six more provinces in a similar situation to soon do the same.
"This resolution is an important step to bring calm and predictability to families," said the minister. "We all want a return to classrooms but it must not be wishful thinking."
Trotta said officials were facing a situation of “enormous complexity,” adding that his team had “sought from the start the necessary balance between the care of health and the windows of opportunity which have presented themselves to return physically to schools.”
None of the country’s three-biggest provinces (Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Santa Fe) can expect a return to classes anytime soon, said Trotta, at least not until their infection rate comes down.
Córdoba Province Education Minister Walter Grahovac confirmed as much on Thursday, saying that the province was undergoing its worst moment for contagion, deaths and occupation of intensive therapy beds and forecasting remote education through to March and April in the province’s schools.