Schools to reopen on Monday with stricter measures in place

Students, staff who were abroad given 14-day leave of absence; all CCAs to be suspended

Schools and kindergartens will reopen on Monday as planned, but with stricter measures to prevent the coronavirus from being spread by those who had returned from trips abroad during the holidays.

Students and staff of schools, pre-schools and student care centres will be given 14 days' leave of absence if they return from overseas on or after March 14.

The date of their return to Singapore will be taken as Day Zero of the 14 days.

The moves comes amid a recent spike in the number of imported cases. Eight out of 10 of Singapore's imported cases of Covid-19 have come in the last 10 days.

The decision to reopen schools and pre-schools came amid speculation that the one-week school holidays, which began on March 14, might be extended, especially after the number of new infections reached a new high of 47 on Wednesday.

Instead, additional precautionary measures will be put in place.

Students who will have to miss classes will be supported through home-based learning.

Parents will have to take their own leave should they need to care for their children on leave of absence, but the authorities encouraged employers to provide flexible work arrangements.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post yesterday that "thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back".

"Our priority must be to protect the education system and keeping students safe. By protecting the system robustly, it can remain open, and lives need not be disrupted. Otherwise, many parents, including those working in hospitals and providing essential services, will not be able to go to work."

He acknowledged that students, parents and coaches may be inconvenienced by the decision.

 
 
 

He added: "I hate to have to do this, but it is critical that we protect the system, and keep everyone who has overseas exposure to the virus away from the school population.

"Then we can possibly return to the calm we enjoyed before the March school holidays. We need to do our best to maintain that."

All co-curricular activities (CCAs), along with the National School Games, will be suspended, and the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation will be deferred.

Also, for two weeks starting from Monday, pupils in Primary 3 and above will have "fixed exam-style seating", where they will sit farther apart and in assigned seats and not move around, while Primary 1 and 2 pupils as well as kindergarten children will have fixed group cluster seating.

Seating will also be assigned in canteens.

Classrooms and canteens will be routinely wiped down. During the March school holidays, schools have been cleaned thoroughly.

 
 

Before these new steps were announced, recess times had been staggered and large group activities suspended.

Other precautions are also in place. Pre-schools are continuing with health checks and temperature screenings. Visitors are restricted from pre-schools, and parents are to drop off and pick up their children outside the school.

The stay-home order caught some parents like Madam L. Rosie, 43, by surprise.

She had taken her two primary school-going children to visit relatives in Malaysia.

"My husband and I were careful to drive straight to my parents' home in Johor. So, we thought it will be okay, and, so far, all of us are fine," she said.

"I will have to take leave to supervise them at home. I am worried that if I don't, they won't get their homework done and will fall behind in their studies."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline 'Schools to reopen on Monday with stricter measures in place'. Print Edition | Subscribe