The Madrid regional premier, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, announced on Tuesday that her government would invest €370 million on the hiring of 10,610 teachers on a temporary basis, as well as reducing class sizes and carrying out 100,000 coronavirus antibody tests on staff ahead of the imminent return to school in September of the 1.2 million schoolchildren in the region.
The announcement came after widespread criticism from unions, teachers and parents alike that no protocols had yet been confirmed for the new school year in the region, with just weeks to go before the term gets started. During the state of alarm implemented by the Spanish government in March in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Díaz Ayuso called for the control over regional powers such as education and healthcare to be returned to the regional governments. However, in recent weeks she has been arguing that the central government should be calling the shots when it comes to the return to the classroom.
The conservative Popular Party (PP) politician’s proposals for the new school year include a return to the classroom as normal for children aged between zero years and 13 (i.e. infantil up until the second year of Obligatory Secondary Education (ESO)), with older students combining face-to-face classes in schools with online learning.
The Madrid region is planning for the return to school to be staggered between September 4 and 28, with delays to the start of the school year for some students.
The plans for the new school year, which will begin in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus crisis and with Madrid at the epicenter once more of what is being viewed as a second wave of the epidemic, will be paid for with funds from the state and from the regional government’s coffers. Also included in the plans are obligatory masks for students aged six and over – although if the epidemiological situation improves, they will only be necessary from the age of 11 upward.
There are no other options than to begin the return to class in phase twoRegional education chief Enrique Ossorio
The first stage of Infantil – which ranges from babies up to toddlers aged three, and accounts for a total of 93,000 children in the region – will begin classes on September 4, for example. Students in the second stage of infantil, and the first three years of primaria – i.e. those aged from around three to nine, accounting for 407,000 students – will start classes on September 8, with a maximum of 20 students per class, down from the previously permitted total of 25. Some high school students, meanwhile, will not begin class until September 18, while some students doing vocational training courses will not start until September 28.
“There are no other options than to begin the return to class in phase two,” said regional education chief Enrique Ossorio on Tuesday, referring to the four possible scenarios the region announced several months ago. “The hiring of teachers will be temporary, according to what the circumstances demand,” he added.
Health chief Enrique Ruiz-Escudero said on Tuesday that a “Covid coordinator” in each school will be “an essential figure.” “They will be there to ensure that life in schools is restricted as little as possible even if a case is detected,” he continued. “Decisions will be taken on a case-by-case basis.”
The plan, which also includes the purchase of 6,000 cameras and 70,000 computers to facilitate online teaching, will be adapted according to the progress of the coronavirus, which has already caused more than 15,000 deaths in Madrid and a total of 100,000 infections.
This government, which has a reforming spirit, will not be dragged down by fearIsabel Díaz Ayuso
The regional government will also carry out 42,000 antibody tests on students and teachers in September, December and March, while periodical tests are planned for teachers and students who are considered to be at risk.
“This government, which has a reforming spirit, will not be dragged down by fear,” said Díaz Ayuso on Tuesday. “We have to face up to the epidemic and avoid the obstacles that lay ahead. We can’t allow for a generation of students to miss out on opportunities. [...] We are going to make an unprecedented economic effort, investing €370 million with the hiring of nearly 11,000 new teachers, with tests for the education community, and the biggest lowering of class sizes in our history, which I hope will be permanent.”
The mayor of Madrid capital, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, also of the PP, has announced that he will be making municipal spaces such as libraries, parks and sports centers available to the regional government so that classes can be held there.
Labor unions, meanwhile, will be meeting on Tuesday with the regional education department. Last week, with Madrid yet to announce its plans for the upcoming school year, several unions said that they would be calling strikes given the lack of confidence that the return to the classroom would be safe for staff and students alike. They are not ruling out indefinite stoppages, but made it clear that they hope to reach an agreement before taking such an extreme measure.
English version by Simon Hunter.