Sat, 18 Sep 2021

by Alessandra Cardone

ROME, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- Early on Monday, students and parents gathered in front of the Lodovico Pavoni middle school in southeast Rome to greet each other and share stories about their summer holidays.

In those hours, the scene was similar for over 3.8 million students across Italy, who went back to school on Sept. 13, to be followed by a further 3.6 million of their peers later this week, depending on the region.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic and the latest safety measures dominated their discussions. While the students generally obeyed the face mask mandate and the social distancing guidelines, their parents outside appeared relatively relaxed.

Overall, families in Italy appear to be less anxious about risks from COVID-19 today than they were a year ago.

Back in September 2020, the reopening of schools was seen as an enormous challenge for a country that was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe in late February, lived through a dramatic first wave in spring, and was expecting a second one in autumn.

By now, some 19 months into the pandemic, basic anti-infection measures -- wearing masks in crowded spaces, distance, avoiding physical contacts -- have more or less become a reflex in daily life.

"Last year, we did not know what to expect," Francesca, 42, a lawyer and mother of two, told Xinhua after her 13-year-old daughter entered her school.

"Would the kids be protected? Would they bring the virus home? How long will the school remain open? These were my concerns last September, and I guess many other parents' as well."

Today, families face less uncertainty, she said, since the Education Ministry and the school staff have had more time to plan the reopening, and the students themselves are also better prepared.

"Most kids have adapted," she noted, adding that for them -- at least for her children -- returning here to meet their friends and their teachers after long months of distance learning last winter "seemed rewarding enough."

MANDATORY VACCINE CERTIFICATION FOR STAFF

This year, all staff and students aged between six and 19 are required to wear their face masks indoors at school, unless the whole class has been fully vaccinated.

Under the new rules introduced by the government earlier this month, all teachers and staff at Italy's schools must have a Green Pass certificate, which shows that the holder has been fully vaccinated, tested negative within the past 48 hours, or recovered from COVID-19. It falls on the school managers to enforce the rules.

Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi said recently that at least 91.5 percent of Italy's school employees had been vaccinated by early September. The respective figures were 67 percent for those aged between 16 and 19 and over 40 percent for students in the 12-15 age group.

Nonetheless, the pandemic continues to bite. In the week between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12, the Health Ministry reported an average 5,000 new cases per day, against 1,900 between June 6 and June 12.

IN-PERSON LEARNING KEY PRIORITY

The new rules are based on recommendations issued by the government's Technical Scientific Committee (CTS).

According to the CTS, in light of the Italian population's vaccination coverage -- over 73 percent fully immunized by Sept. 13 -- it is "absolutely necessary to give priority to teaching in school for the 2021-2022 school year."

Bringing students back to their classrooms -- and keeping them there throughout the whole year -- has been a priority for the Italian authorities since spring.

Despite the new rule on the mandatory use of the Green Pass, the teachers Xinhua spoke to did not sound particularly worried. "I expect to encounter organizational problems, mostly linked to the need to show our Green Passes, but overall this year should go quite smoothly," nursery teacher Gerarda Laurenza from another school in Rome told Xinhua.

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