This week begins the first face-to-face school year since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. Eight million students return to classrooms in a staggered manner during the month of September. Murcia and La Rioja took the lead on Monday; Madrid and Cantabria follow this Tuesday, although Catalonia, for example, will not start the course until next week. Classes begin peppered with protests over the recovery of pre-pandemic ratios and the reduction of thousands of backup teachers – up to 17,000, according to the calculations of the CSIF union – incorporated last year to create smaller groups and guarantee the distance between students.
The dream of low ratios lasted a year: “Increasing them is a health and educational error”
The classes will be the closest thing to the pre-coronavirus world we’ve experienced so far. Although the Ministry of Education and the autonomous communities agreed on minimum measures in August (mask, distance, staggered access …), in regions such as Madrid, teachers report that the return to the maximum number of students per classroom (25 in Primary, 30 in Secondary and 35 in Baccalaureate) in a 100% face-to-face regime does not guarantee the mandatory minimum separation. This distance was relaxed after the last Inter-territorial Conference on Education, which brings together the Government and autonomous communities, from 1.5 to 1.2 meters.
It was then that the Ministry gave the green light to the increase in students per class. Its execution or not, depending on the available spaces and the organization, remained in the hands of the autonomous communities. The possibility has left out thousands of teachers hired last year to attend the small classes.
How reinforcements by communities have been reduced
The situations between territories, however, are very different. While the Valencian Community begins the course next Wednesday with 2.4% more teachers, despite the fact that the number of enrolled has fallen slightly; others such as Madrid, Asturias, Murcia, Galicia, Andalusia or Aragon will do without part of the reinforcements incorporated until June. The Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso reduces the staff from 11,000 to 3,000 professionals; the Executive of Alberto Núñez Feijóo leaves the reinforcements in 1,250 teachers compared to 2,300 last year; Andalusian public centers will have 1,000 fewer teachers and the Government of Murcia has not renewed the 1,500 extras for the 2020-2021 academic year.
“It is not only that they have not added teachers, it is that they have even cut them compared to last year. We are also the only community that has not reversed the cuts in teachers of 2012”, denounces Nuria Montiel, spokesperson for Teachers United of that region.
Last week, the State Platform for Public School, which includes unions, student and parent organizations, registered a letter to the Minister of Education and FP in which they announced mobilizations and rallies for all of Spain to criticize the “relaxation” of health measures for this next school year, and to demand that more teachers be hired. Concentrations have also been held and called in front of the headquarters of regional governments or parliaments in Andalusia or Galicia.
There are communities like La Rioja, whose classrooms have been in operation since Monday, which have started with fewer teachers, although the Government assures that they can increase. Euskadi, Catalunya, Castilla y León, Castilla La Mancha and Navarra maintain the reinforcements, according to the data collected by the editions of elDiario.es. There are also exceptions in territories that have decided not to maximize the ratios, such as Castilla y León, which will maintain the cap on male and female students as established last year. Without changes.
“There is no way to put everyone in the classroom at a distance”
The management team of an institute north of Madrid that prefers not to be identified has spent days trying to fit with a square and bevel to its hundreds of students with a separation of more than one meter between the tables. “There is no way to put them in. We have given it up for lost with classrooms that will have between 30 and 35 kids,” assumes the head of studies in conversation with elDiario.es.
70 Secondary institutes have already communicated the same problem to the Ministry of Education. The Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso assures that it is buying screens for these cases. The order published last Friday in the Official Gazette of the Community of Madrid warns that if “it is not possible” to guarantee interpersonal distance, others will be reinforced, such as ventilation. Workers’ Commissions has taken the order to the courts considering a “barbarity” that the management teams have to find their lives.
For the Association of Directors of Public Institutes of the Community of Madrid, Adimad, the guidelines are “offensive”. “The space we have in the centers is known, fixed and immovable. The Ministry already knew that the only solution was to reduce the number of students as we did in 1st and 2nd of ESO with more than good results. to 30 boys and girls, it is impossible “, points out the president of the organization, Esteban Álvarez, who assures that this situation has” worried “to” management teams, families and teachers “. “Is Madrid going to be exceptional in this too?”
Until now, the students of the last cycle of ESO and Baccalaureate had a blended regime: some days they went to the institute and others followed the classes electronically. For the first time, 100% return to the center. In this cycle, the electives and the itineraries do not allow, unlike the schools, to create bubble groups and in the same class there are students who mix with others in some subjects, so the experts warn that it is imperative to maintain the minimum distance to prevent contagion.
“With the total presence and the previous ratios it is impossible to maintain the distances”, confirms from the experience of the first day of classes in Murcia the director of the Nuestra Señora de Fátima de Molina de Segura center, Francisco José Peñalver, anticipating what to Starting this Tuesday, students in Madrid and in other autonomous communities will empirically check.
Adolescent vaccination advances
Fears have skyrocketed despite the fact that 75% of kids between 12 and 19 years old have at least one dose of the vaccine and 44% the full schedule, according to data from the Ministry. Immunization does not prevent contagion, but it reduces the chances and especially that the disease is serious. But in Infant and Primary, the vaccination does not finish arriving. There is still no scientific evidence to show that the benefits of vaccinating children under 12 years of age are greater than the effects that the injection causes on a child’s body, so that students return to school without having been inoculated. Experts trust that the lack of immunity will not put the return to the classroom at risk as long as sanitary measures are strictly maintained.
These educational stages make it possible to repeat the stable groups of coexistence, the so-called bubble nuclei, made up of the tutor and the students. The guidelines of the Ministry of Health say that in these cases it is not necessary to “strictly maintain social distancing measures” because “tightness” is guaranteed. Primary schools, therefore, have less difficulties with space, since the tables do not necessarily have to be one meter apart.
However, they are affected by the reduction of teachers. “We have 25% less than last year. We were 37 and now we are 29”, says the director of a public school in Aluche (Madrid). The bill of a year and a half of pandemic is still present in the classrooms: first, the abrupt absence of the months of confinement; then a half-gas course marked by the economic and social crisis. The aim of this year is to make up for lost time and ensure that the most vulnerable students, the ones most prone to lagging behind, can come back. “The drop in ratios, support and group splitting are essential to face the accumulated learning deficits since the beginning of the pandemic and guarantee a more individualized teaching,” the ANPE union said in a statement.
What measures are maintained: mask, bubble group, stepped entry …
The Minister of Education, Pilar Alegría, hopes to have a “quiet course” with the measures adopted. Which are? The mask is still mandatory at all levels, except for Children (under six years). Some communities, such as Catalunya, have made their use more flexible and will allow them to be removed at recess as long as the children are alone with their bubble group. The Catalan Government also endorses the entry of relatives to educational centers, until now prohibited.
The staggered entry by courses is maintained to avoid crowds at entrances and exits. Cross ventilation continues as a recommendation, “if possible permanently”, opening opposite doors and windows so that air can circulate, as well as the prohibition of going to class in case of having to quarantine due to contagion or close contact. Almost 100% of teachers are vaccinated, according to Health.
Among the doubts that assail teachers is the attention to confined students if the whole class attends in person, reports Pau Rodríguez. “It is unfeasible. You cannot be attending a face-to-face class and then be aware of two or three who are at home. Do you put a screen on them? But then it causes problems. How do you actively work with them? In the end you end up neglecting the students of class to solve technical incidents … It is a protocol that is not accompanied by the necessary resources “, says Iolanda Segura, spokesperson for the majority union of the USTEC public school.