By Annette Chrysostomou and Nick Theodoulou
All public schools will reopen on May 21 and the school year will be extended until June 26, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou announced on Wednesday.
Speaking after a meeting at the presidential palace with unions and government officials, Prodromou also reconfirmed an earlier decision that final year high school students will go back to school on May 11, with a maximum of 12 students per classroom.
“The very effective performance of our country in tackling the pandemic… has given ground for the strategy of gradual lifting of measures,” Prodromou said.
“In this context, the government has planned for the reopening of all areas, and of course the gradual reopening of schools.”
State kindergarten, primary and secondary students will go back to school on May 21 in two separate groups and attend lessons on different days, the minister said.
One group will have lessons from Monday to Wednesday, and the second on Thursday and Friday. The following week they will change around so that each group will go to school for five days every two weeks.
There will also be a maximum of 12 pupils in each room.
He confirmed the Pancyprian exams will be held normally and will start on June 9.
Some 20,000 teachers and students will be tested for the coronavirus following the opening of the schools, Prodromou said, a decision which will need to be approved by the Council of Ministers.
Measures will also be taken for students who go to school by bus and teachers will be given seminars on aspects of safety such as the distances which need to be kept and what to do so children do not all have a break together.
Schools will also be asked to provide lessons to students on personal responsibility and how to safely gather in a school environment.
Student union Psem afterwards complained that the minister had not been specific and left many questions unanswered.
They further criticised the government, saying that there is no provision to protect all students and teachers.
“How will masks and gloves be provided to all students and teachers from the moment that the state will not provide them for free?”
Oelmek, the secondary school union, and Poed, Primary school teachers’ union, said that had no prior warning or information that schools would be opened to all students.
General secretary of Poed, Charis Charalambous, said that the new measures came as a surprise.
President of Oelmek, Costas Hadjisavvas, said that there was only one teleconference in the past week which focused on other issues.
What worries teachers most is the mass return of students on May 21, Hadjisavvas said after the meeting.
“There may be fewer students in some schools, but we are concerned how these children will be controlled. In the meeting, we strongly emphasised that, above all, we had to focus first on the lyceum, to complete the Pancyprian exams and to finally complete this difficult year,” he explained.
“This is a one-sided decision. From there on, the responsibility lies with the government.”
Prodromou also said that distance learning will remain in place and be developed further. He did not provide any further details however.
He said that all questions and queries will be answered in the comings days as more announcements are made.
Most private schools contacted by the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday said they had not yet decided if they too will open on May 21.
Decision-making for them is complicated by the fact that all external exams — IGCSEs, AS levels and A levels — have been cancelled. Also, online learning was up and running quickly and was far more extensive than in the state sector.
According to the American Academy in Nicosia, the board of governors has yet to announce a decision. The Falcon School also commented management will make an announcement in the coming days. Foley’s School in Limassol said a decision may be made as soon as on Thursday.
The Grammar School told the Cyprus Mail they would not reopen because they will continue to have online teaching and their exams are also online.
In terms of private kindergartens, the owner of Marina’s playschool in Nicosia said the association of the private kindergartens will decide soon on their opening dates.
“We hope to open soon, if not by the 21st, then by the 25th,” she said of her own school. “We are eager to open but it depends if we manage to get ready and put all the necessary measures in place.”
Private afternoon institutes will also be allowed to open.
Hours after it was announced that schools will reopen, a Change.org petition was launched which called for the government to not reopen schools.
Launched by ‘Students Cyprus’, the petition is being shared on social media and says: “Our children are not guinea pigs!”
“We think it would be extremely risky for schools to reopen as soon as the education ministry suggests.”