France and the Netherlands are the last European countries planning to reopen schools after a week’s break due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Children in French primary schools are expected to start school on May 11 with a maximum of about 15 children per class.
Older children will return a week later on May 18, but schools will only be allowed to resume if they meet strict sanitary conditions.
Dutch children will also start coming back part-time from May 11 and will be able to start playing sports together from April 29.
Some German children have already returned to school as they prepare for the exams, while others will return in the coming weeks as the country’s 16 states establish their own rules.
In contrast, the British government says there are no plans to close schools in Britain.
NETHERLANDS: Two pupils listen to their teacher in a classroom in Schijndel last week, during a test for the reopening of schools which is now scheduled for May 11
In France, Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer said students will gradually return over a three-week period starting with the youngest children on May 11.
Some high schools and trade schools will resume on May 18 with a view to bringing the bulk of the school system back into service from the week of May 25.
Blanquer said back-to-school arrangements would be discussed with local authorities, teacher unions, parent groups and advisory bodies.
“It will be absolutely necessary to work with small groups,” said Blanquer, saying that the maximum class size would be around 15.
Schools were closed on March 16, although some schools remained open as daycare centers for children of key workers such as nurses and police.
President Emmanuel Macron says it is important to return to school as soon as possible for children from low-income families.
French universities will remain closed until after the summer holidays.
In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said students will return to class part-time in primary schools and kindergartens on May 11.
Children will be allowed to participate in sports training from April 29, while high schools must prepare to resume teaching on June 2.
Rutte said the cabinet made the decision about the elementary schools because government scientists had concluded that young children appeared to be less likely to contract and transmit the virus.
FRANCE: Children sit at a table in a Toulouse school that has remained open to care for children of key workers such as nurses and police
However, Dutch primary schools have to cut class sizes in half, which means that children go to school about half the time.
Online education will continue the rest of the time, the government said.
At the same time, Rutte keeps its bars and restaurants closed until May 20 and public events banned until September.
Rutte told the nation, “Caution is better than regret later.”
Health officials said the number of coronavirus patients treated in intensive care units across the country had dropped 71 from the previous day, the largest day-long decline since the epidemic began .
In Germany, school policy is decided by the 16 states – some of which have already authorized the return of a small number of students.
Unlike Holland and France, the German authorities have given priority to older children preparing for the summer exams.
These children began returning to schools in Berlin and the state of Saxony this week. Other states are delaying resumption of education until May 4.
GERMANY: Teacher wearing face mask cleans desk in classroom of Dortmund Phoenix Gymnasium yesterday
NORWAY: Children play in small groups in a kindergarten in Oslo Monday, when the youngest Norwegian children have been allowed to return to nursery schools
In Berlin, 16-year-olds will follow the 19-year-olds in class a week later, other age groups will follow in stages in the coming months.
“I think the students are now ready for their final exams,” said Antje Luekemann, principal of Steglitz Secondary School in Berlin.
This week, students arrived wearing face masks and hand sanitizing with disinfectant before sitting in widely spaced school offices.
“The longer the uncertainty lasts, the more difficult it will be to keep them motivated and that is why I think it is very important that we get the green light for these exams,” added Luekemann.
Austria, which has had similar success to Germany in flattening the curve, also plans to resume education for young people who leave school in early May.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said that more children will start returning to classrooms in an unspecified step-by-step process starting May 15.
Spain has not yet authorized return to school, but the country’s education minister says there could be education during the summer if this is not possible before.
“The school year ends in June, but there will be a summer program if the health conditions allow it,” said Isabel Celaa. “A school support plan so the kids can be outside, exercise and learn.”
Health Minister Salvador Illa said his ministry is monitoring the epidemiological situation to decide when and how to leave children outside.
“We know that imprisonment is a challenge for [children] and their families, “he said.
Spanish children have been locked inside more completely than in other countries, as exercise is not a valid excuse for leaving home in Spain.
DENMARK: Teacher Louise Sjoestein distributes hand sanitizer to students at a school in Ringsted on Monday
This rule has now been relaxed to allow children to walk and accompany their parents on essential trips to buy food or medicine.
“This is a government that is listening and next weekend, I will issue an order allowing children under the age of 14 to walk around from Sunday, April 26,” Illa told a news conference yesterday.
The health ministry will announce details of when and where children can walk in the coming days, he said.
Some schools and daycare centers have already reopened in Denmark, despite parental opposition.
“I will not send my children no matter what,” said Sandra Andersen, founder of a Facebook group called “My child will not be a guinea pig.”
“I think a lot of parents think, why should my little child go out first?” Said Andersen, the mother of two daughters aged five and nine.
In Norway, the youngest children started returning to kindergartens on Monday a month after being sent home due to the pandemic.
After the nursery schools this week, the primary schools will reopen their doors to the youngest pupils next Monday.
As in the Netherlands, the authorities said they had ordered the reopening because the children were apparently less affected by Covid-19.
“Going to kindergarten is safe,” Education Minister Guri Melby repeated before the reopening.