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Monday, 21. September 2020

European Schools should provide distance learning possibility

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Parents letter to the Secretary General of European schools Mr Giancarlo Marcheggiano regarding urgent need to provide distance learning possibility for the to pupils of those families who need it at the time of the spread of COVID-19.

Dear Mr Marcheggiano,
 
We are writing to you in the name of the parents of European Schools who have signed a petition on the need to ensure the health and safety of all members of the European Schools communities during the times of COVID-19.

Distance learning is a necessity

Our petition has been circulated across the European Schools and has received the support of parents and teachers across language sections and across the European Schools.  At the time of writing, 229 parents and teachers had signed the petition. For reasons of transparency, we put the parents and teachers that have signed the petition in copy of this email.  Besides that, I copy the current message to your Deputy, Mr Andreas Beckmann.  Among the supporters we can identify the most significant support from the Italian (64 signatures), French (62 signatures), Romanian (34 signatures), Lithuanian (20 signatures) and Portuguese (17 signatures) linguistic communities and Laeken (113 signatures), Woluwe (72 signatures) and Luxembourg II-Mamer (26 signatures) European Schools. Besides that we have supporters from the English, German, Czech, Dutch, Estonian and Swedish language sections and from the Ixelles, Uccle, Berkendael and Luxembourg I European Schools. 

All of the persons who have signed the petition in the short time that he had for circulating it, have done so based on their personal convictions in their private capacity.

Our petition is based on the following arguments.   The European Schools should provide for distance learning possibility to pupils of those families who need it at the time of the spread of COVID-19.
While we agree in general that that the draft rules contained in the proposals of the Task Force “Preparation of the 2020/21 school year” are aiming to provide solutions to most issues, we have discovered two important omissions.

Protect vulnerable families

First of all those arrangements do not cater for families with vulnerable family members.  Pupils from families with vulnerable family members are expected to go to school for on-site learning and that brings with it the danger that the pupils will transmit the virus to vulnerable family members who are otherwise making all efforts to self-isolate. In case of a vulnerable parent who due to his or her underlying health conditions is granted by the European institutions the right to telework from home in order to reduce the risk of becoming contaminated with the virus, the obligation to send his or her children physically to the European Schools completely defies the purpose of the protective measures that the institutions have taken out of duty of care for their employees.

The rules also do not address situations, where one of the children of the family is declared vulnerable and should for health reasons abstain from contacts with other pupils, while other children of the same family are still required to attend the school. The best solution that would guarantee the right to health protection to such vulnerable groups would be to provide the pupils from families with vulnerable family members with a possibility of distance learning in the arrangements for the European Schools.

Those families who live in Belgium, cannot rely in this regard on the uniform protection of national rules. It appears that whereas the Flemish speaking parts of the country provide for protection of vulnerable family members via distance learning possibilities, the francophone parts of the country do not do it.

Bearing in mind that the two main linguistic communities in Belgium implement the national  guidelines in a different manner, the European schools should be able to adapt them to the specific context of the European schools. The size, intermingling of sections, different linguistic sections as a part of the unique functioning of the European schools system are not existing in Belgian schools. Therefore we consider that the European school managers are not bound to follow the Belgium national rules to the letter.

Besides the families with vulnerable family members, the draft rules do not address the situation of the pupils whose families have just returned from orange or red zones and are recommended to self isolate (for orange zones) for two weeks or obliged to stay in quarantine. The rules provide for exceptions from the obligation to go to school for on-site learning only for infected students.  In the absence of an exception, there is a danger that the parents of such families would send their children directly to school after their return. This brings with it a danger of the repetition of the situation that we experienced after Carnival holidays and  transmission of  the virus to other pupils by asymptomatic children who are infected with COVID-19. On the other hand, while in quarantine or self-isolation, the children of families having returned from a red or orange zone, need to have access to education. And in our view it would be the best to provide for such an opportunity via distance learning.

Board of Governors will meet soon

As you know, the Board of Governors of the European Schools will decide on 31 August on the concrete arrangements for the new school year that will start in the conditions of COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible that as an Italian you are best placed to understand the impact that the pandemic can have on all aspects of life, including the operation of schools, since your Member State of origin has been most profoundly affected by it. We therefore trust that you can be one of the decisive forces for tackling the pandemic in a balanced manner at the discussions at the extraordinary meeting of the Board of Governors and would like to request you to support our arguments in the deliberations of the above arrangements in your capacity of Secretary General of the European schools in Brussels.

Parents and teachers support it

The need of having distance learning assured would be obvious also in case of imposed quarantine, when cases of Covid affected children will be established in the classes. Such possibility to learn from home should be guaranteed in the interest of the those children.

Besides that, the arrangements provide the Directors of the European Schools with a discretionary right to deviate from the arrangements, taking their own responsibility for such deviations.

In our view it is important to emphasize in those rules that individual European Schools should not be able to deviate in any of the scenarios from the health and safety guarantees to the disadvantage of the vulnerable groups in the school community.

Finally, when trying to find solutions to the practical issues COVID-19 poses to the European Schools, the experience of the Varese European School could be of interest to you. That school, being situated in Italy, has gained the longest experience of functioning in the conditions of the outbreak of the epidemic and it has come up with a Memorandum of Understanding which contains in a compressed manner their best practices of handling the pandemic at school (please find it attached).
We hope that our voice will be heard and you will be able to support our arguments at the Board of Governors meeting.

Kind regards,

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Aim of the European Schools

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

Marcel Decombis, Head of European School, Luxembourg between 1953 and 1960