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Children Return to School Amid Spike in Cases

SANTIAGO – Despite tensions between the government and teachers’ unions, schools have reopened across the country, many using blended-learning modes. However, some schools that opened for in-person teaching have already closed again due to confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Many Chileans dread March, the imminent end of summer and the return to work and school, but even more so with the pandemic, as most schoolchildren across the country spent the previous academic year learning remotely at home. According to the Education Ministry, approximately 30 percent of schools reopened on Mar. 1, after the government softened its approach and opted for a “gradual, flexible and safe” return to the classroom.

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Education Minister Raúl Figueroa’s prior attempt to reopen all schools on Mar. 1 was challenged by teachers’ union CPC; and, after a heated debate, the government retreated, leaving it up to parents to decide when it is best to send their children back to school. Despite this, some chose to open their doors on Monday, though a few have already had to shut after positive cases of coronavirus were identified.

Santiago Schools

On Mar. 2, Public Health Subsecretary Paula Daza addressed the situation: “schools where cases have been identified prior to the start of the school year … have been immediately isolated and health authorities are carrying out an epidemiologist investigation.” Daza added that there was no contact between staff and the children.

Santiago’s Liceo Bicentenario Italia and Providencia’s Compañía de María Seminario are among the schools that have had to drop in-person learning for now because of confirmed cases.

La Tercera reported that Providencia’s Instituto Luis Campino had to suspend classes after its first day since staff members had contracted the virus. In a statement, the school said: “the quarantine period will end on Mar. 15, prompting a return to hybrid teaching on Mar. 16, provided that the sanitary conditions allow it.”

Meanwhile, Las Condes Mayor Joaquín Lavín reported an average of 67 percent attendance for public schools in his district on Mar. 1.

Rising Number of Cases

That same day, Health Minister Enrique Paris reported over 4,000 new coronavirus cases five days in a row. He also said the R number for the Metropolitan region had increased to 1.1, meaning the virus is spreading faster, and he urged people to be more cautious. “We must insist that vacation time is over; we must remind ourselves of the sanitary rules: wear masks, observe social distancing, wash hands, and continue with our vaccination plan.”

Teachers’ union president Carlos Díaz told Cooperativa “it is very serious that the government is going ahead with this, trying to convince us of some kind of normality when their own health ministry is saying that the situation is problematic, regarding the increase in cases.”

Chile’s medical college also weighed in on the debate: “the decision to reverse or keep in-person lessons should be made on a local – not national – basis,” said Secretary José Miguel Bernucci. “We need to decide whether we shut shopping malls or schools; or we shut theaters or schools,” he added.

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