Pupils returning to schools as planned on Monday

Ljubljana – Pupils will return to schools and the youngest children to kindergartens following an 11-day circuit-breaker lockdown on Monday under a decision taken by the government on Thursday, which is in line with the promise made before the country entered its third coronavirus lockdown.

The return to kindergartens and primary and secondary schools will follow the same model as before the lockdown, which means all primary pupils will return to schools, while most secondary pupils will alternate between in-class and remote learning every week, Education Minister Simona Kustec told reporters.

The alternate weeks model applies only to year one to three secondary students, while final year pupils have in-person teaching all the time just like primary pupils.

Student dorms for secondary pupils will reopen on Sunday when the relevant decree adopted by the government today will take effect.

Face masks will remain mandatory in classrooms and schools for primary pupils from the sixth to ninth form, for all staff and for all secondary students, while kindergarten children and primary pupils up to the fifth form are required to wear masks in common school areas outside their classrooms.

Face masks will not be obligatory for pupils during physical education classes.

Higher education institutions remain closed for now except for practical training or exams by groups of up to ten students. For most students, dorms remain closed as well.

In music schools only one-on-one instruction is permitted, it follows from the government decree.

While staff are already being tested for coronavirus weekly, voluntary self-testing is being introduced for older pupils with Kustec saying the measure should be accepted “in good faith” as a measure to fight the virus.

“Schools will be sent an informative film in the coming days so that parents and pupils will be able to learn about the voluntary testing procedure in detail,” the minister said, adding the project would be presented to secondary school head teachers in detail tomorrow and then next week to the head teachers of primaries.

The minister could not say yet when self-testing would begin, noting that pupils and parents need to get all the necessary information first, but she hopes it could be introduced as soon as possible.

She said preliminary data collected by schools show about 20% of the year six to nine primary pupils and between 18% and 19% of secondary school students are willing to self-test, which Health Minister Janez Poklukar recently said pupils would perform at home.

Asked about the low interest expressed in self-tests, the minister said it was “essential all of us and everyone among us does as much as possible to make sure school premises remain safe and that schooling can continue in-person until the end of the school year”.

Kustec believes once “it has become clear this is about a genuine intention to help individuals and the broader school space the measure will be used more actively”.

The minister said her ministry was in discussion with officials from the National Institute of Public Health to determine potential scenarios for the matura secondary school-leaving exam for events such as quarantine orders issued to classes. The exam will start with an essay just after May Day holidays.

The minister also hopes for a return of sports, but it would depend on the opinion of health experts, she said.

With the exception of outdoor exercise involving an individual or members of the same household, sports have been banned since 1 April, except for top registered athletes. Even for those national competitions have been put on hold.

The government is meeting later today to make potential changes to its traffic lights system of measures to apply from 12 April after the lockdown imposed on 1 April ends.