[WATCH] COVID-19 guidelines for schools being finalised, Owen Bonnici says

The educational and health authorities will by Friday release the coronavirus guidelines that schools will have to adopt when they reopen in September • MUT warns minister it will not allow him to steamroll over educators 

Education Minister Owen Bonnici says schools will reopen in September and safety guidelines are being drawn up for a safe return of children in the classroom
Education Minister Owen Bonnici says schools will reopen in September and safety guidelines are being drawn up for a safe return of children in the classroom
COVID-19 guidelines for schools being finalised, Education Minister says

Updated at 12:26pm with MUT statement 

COVID-19 guidelines for schools are being finalised by the authorities and will be published by Friday, Education Minister Owen Bonnici said.

“The guidelines will be finalised in the coming hours and will then be discussed with all stakeholders… they will then be published on Friday,” Bonnici told MaltaToday on Tuesday morning.

He said the primary interest was to ensure that children received the best education and this was possible in the classroom.

Bonnici said children could not afford to lose out on their education for another year but insisted the return to the classrooms will be done in a safe way.

Schools closed last March when the coronavirus pandemic hit Malta and remained shut until the end of the scholastic year.

However, as Malta reopened its economy in June, the government summer school, Skola Sajf, was held with stricter safety protocols to minimise the risk of virus spread.

Responding to a call by the Union of Professional Educators last week for children not to return to the classroom, Bonnici said discussions will be held with the union to explain the safety protocols that will be adopted.

Bonnici insisted the government’s priority was for schools to reopen and children to return to their classrooms.

Children’s Commissioner Pauline Miceli yesterday also made the same appeal, insisting that isolating children at home was more problematic than the effects of the virus.

She called on the authorities to organise schools in a safe way that would also allow children to receive an education in the classroom and be able to interact socially with peers.

On Monday, the association of independent schools warned that reopening schools in September is only possible if the COVID-19 rate goes down.

Malta has experienced a surge in cases since restrictions were lifted and the airport reopened earlier in the summer.

New restrictive measures on mass events, nightclubs and bars were reintroduced a fortnight ago to curb the spread of infection. The rules were tweaked to allow bars to remain open as long as people remained seated at their tables.

Union won't allow education ministry to steamroll over educators - MUT 

In a statement, the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) said that after it demanded that the government issue protocols so that everyone was prepared to handle every possible scenario regarding the reopening of schools, it appeared that the ministry of education wanted to speed up the process and issue the protocols on Friday.

The MUT said that during the meeting it had with the ministry yesterday, no mention was made of the protocols being published on Friday, so soon after discussions had begun.

The MUT said that it so far had not seen the protocols, and argued that they should not be published without the input of educations; and that it was not possible for the ministry to publish guidelines overnight.

“The way of learning during the school year has not yet been decided. The MUT, as the main representative of all educators, is going through its processes where it is consulting with everyone, including members and the Church and independent sectors. This is to ensure that the voice of educators is taken into account at every stage,” the union said.

The MUT said it would not allow the ministry to steamroll over educators. The union is adamant that it will not discuss protocols in a hurried manner, especially if decisions had already been taken.

“The MUT is ready to take all necessary measures to protect the interests and health and safety of educators and students.”

PN reacts to minister statements

The Nationalist Party has called out the “incompetence” of the education ministry, stating that the government’s lack of protocols is leaving parents and teachers concerned.

“The ministry is not offering peace of mind over the reopening of schools next September, as it is yet to consult with parents, school administrations, teachers and their unions,” the PN said.

It called on the ministry and government to adopt the necessary procedures and ensure those concerned that “things are being done in the right manner”.

In a reaction to the statement, the Labour Party called on the PN to address the “sensitive issue” in a mature way.

It assured that in the same way childcare centres and Skolasajf were opened, government will be carrying out all the necessary procedures, and will continue to consult with all stakeholders.

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Additional reporting: Nicole Meilak