What do we know about returning to school in high school from 7 January

What do we know about returning to school in high school from 7 January

We start again with 50% of the students in attendance, but only for a week, and then move on to 75%. A measure dictated more by political compromise than by scientific reasons

(photo: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert / picture alliance via Getty Images) It was a push and pull announced what high school students would have to face in this school year. And on balance the situation is even more chaotic than expectations, in an attempt to find the right means between bringing back to live the physical experience of the class in the presence and respecting sufficient precautions against contagion. Just in the last hours of 2020 the official confirmation arrived (except for last-minute upheavals, as we have become accustomed to these months now): on January 7 we return to school throughout Italy, but only for 50% of students. The other half stays at home, in distance learning.

The novelty, according to the official papers, is that the goal set by decree of 75% in attendance is actually postponed, contenting themselves with a quarter fewer students sitting in the classroom. How long? Just a week, or a little more, because we are talking about January 15th (which however is a Friday), or at the limit of the Monday immediately following.

Beyond the organizational complication of having to set up an ad hoc management system hoc of students for a paltry handful of days, the question that arises is how much will affect the spread of the infection. We anticipate it: of course there is no single answer, because there are many factors and variables involved, but some considerations can be made.

Student gatherings

It is self-evident that the measures adopted are used to avoid groups of students, and therefore limit the chances of contagion. As is well known, the most critical aspect of the school supply chain is not all remaining seated in the classroom, each in their own place and wearing a mask, but the management of transition moments. Entrances, exits, recreations, common spaces and above all public transport are the circumstances in which - in the opinion of the technical scientific committee and not only - the transmission of the new coronavirus becomes more probable.

In this sense, the solution simpler, in an ideal way, would be to opt for temporal staggering, making girls and boys flow a little at a time, in order to limit encounters. A strategy that, however, in practice seems to be impossible to implement (except for a few small measures, such as letting some students in the second hour), due to contractual and organizational issues that are too deeply rooted in the school ecosystem. And certainly not changeable overnight.

The only viable way, therefore, seems to be to leave a slice of students stationary at home desks. And the whole discussion is about the fine adjustment of the percentage to be accepted in school. With some mathematical constraints that cannot be ignored: given that the vast majority of classes have between 20 and 25 students, each in fact represents 4% -5% of the class. Therefore, doing 90% face-to-face teaching would not make sense because it would mean excluding just a couple of people from the group. And doing it at 20% or 30% would mean being in the classroom with a meager group of students, perhaps even penalized compared to the rest of the class, who would instead share the lesson as an online experience. So in fact, in order not to get into the ridiculous quarrel on single percentage points, the only two possible options we are talking about are 50% and 75%. In addition, of course, to 0% and 100%.

For a week -25%

This is the compromise recipe found to try to make everyone agree for the day of return, fixed as anticipated on 7 January. The temporary passage of 75% to 50% would give that gradualness to the measure that would allow starting with lead feet and then, eventually, to adjust the shot.

If from the contagion point of view it is obvious that lower is the percentage of students in attendance and there are fewer opportunities for transmission, the real point is how much the choice can really make a difference. Not so much for the variation of 25%, which is by no means negligible, but for the very short duration of the measurement. A week or so is not even remotely sufficient to assess whether the reopening of schools can have an effect on infections, because we are talking about a period of time comparable to that of a single Covid-19 incubation cycle. And at the same time, it is unlikely that the Italian epidemiological situation will change significantly in just one week. In short, what difference January 15th makes compared to January 7th is not clear.

Not to mention that it is not only on the way home-school or inside the classrooms that the transmission can take place. That is to say, the decision on how to manage the school should go hand in hand with the other permitted activities. And blocking a few more students at home in the morning, without changing the rules on what you can do in the afternoon, could have a completely negligible impact.

Yet another political dispute against the students?

The impression is that moving the return of that extra quarter of students forward by a week does not have any real scientific motivation behind it, but that it is only the result of a complex political negotiation in which countless actors intervene , national and regional. A negotiation in which it seems excluded to bring everyone back to the classroom, despite continuing to affirm that schools are safe (as if getting them to school, the students, was a matter in itself). And at the same time we want to give the message that the school is reopening, that is, that someone in the morning is really going to populate the classrooms.

The effect is to leave the students in a further transition phase, in which it is necessary to reorganize and get used to it quickly, and then change again within a few days. And with the specter, needless to hide it, of a further postponement of that 75% written in the decree, because many things can happen in the next two weeks. All ahead and a winter and a spring that, even from a scholastic point of view, promise more fluctuating than ever. Without the prospect of a vaccine for young people coming soon, and where the ability to plan activities organically is now only a faded memory.

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