BUENOS AIRES – Argentine President Alberto Fernandez met on Friday with education ministers nationwide to prepare for the resumption of in-person schooling, although teachers’ unions and parents’ groups are starting to object more forcefully to plans for a return to the classroom amid the pandemic.
The meeting between Fernandez and the heads of the education portfolios from the country’s 23 provinces and the federal capital (Buenos Aires) was held to work out the protocols for on-site instruction after a year in which distance learning predominated.
The new school year is set to resume on Feb. 17 in Buenos Aires and the provinces of Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero and Jujuy with a combination of in-person classes and remote instruction, while the start date for the remaining provinces will be closer to March.
“There will be an alternating schedule (with both) face-to-face and non-face-to-face” instruction, Argentine Education Minister Nicolas Trotta said at a press conference.
He said if coronavirus cases sprout up authorities will proceed to close schools within the “smallest geographic unit possible,” although “if the epidemiological reality becomes more complicated the intensity of on-site instruction will need to be rolled back.”
Parents who need time away from work to assist their children with remote instruction can ask their employers to grant them that permission.
In-person classes were halted due to the onset of the pandemic last March, shortly after the start of the 2020 school year.
Remote instruction was imposed nationwide until protocols for a return to the classroom were established in July, although in-person instruction was only possible in a handful of provinces on a temporary basis.
Renewed face-to-face schooling is being planned after a week in which a daily average of around 6,670 new confirmed cases per day were reported in Argentina, which has had roughly 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 50,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The Aedmys Teachers’ Association, one of several teachers’ unions in Buenos Aires, decided Thursday to launch a three-day strike next week in protest over plans for the start of in-person classes “without safe epidemiological conditions, without the necessary infrastructure and hygiene conditions and without wage recomposition.”
That union and the Workers’ Left Front held a protest Friday outside the president’s Quinta de Olivos official residence, where the meeting with the provincial education ministers was held.
“In the same way they opened the economy, now they’re opening the schools with no guarantees. By contrast, the teachers, the families and students want assurances about health, building, salary, budget, job and epidemiological conditions for a safe return to classes,” Celeste Fierro of the Workers´ Socialist Movement said.
Asked about the objections of different unions, Trotta expressed confidence that issues can be resolved through dialogue and confirmed that teacher salary negotiations nationwide will begin Feb. 18.
Separately, the group Families for a Safe Return to Schools demonstrated Friday outside Argentina’s Education Ministry in Buenos Aires and expressed their concern about a lack of controls and cleaning supplies and their inability to ensure a safe return to classrooms due to a lack of access to the schools.
“All of this constitutes a brutal violation of the rights of families and children,” the parents’ group said in a statement.