Open play areas, fully-functioning canteens, Physical Education classes, and extra-curricular programs await private and Charter schools students in Abu Dhabi when they return to school in September, after Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) unveiled a raft of updated precautionary policies for the new academic year.
In-line with policies laid down by the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee, the comprehensive new policies include extensive safeguarding measures to ensure the safety of all staff, pupils, and visitors across private and Charter schools and their facilities.
Schools are set to continue operating macrobubbles for the new academic year to reduce the risk and magnitude of Covid-19 transmission among school groups and reduce shifts to distance learning. Class bubble sizes for younger students in Kindergarten and Cycle 1 (Grade 2/Year 3 and below) who do not practice social distancing has been increased from 10 to 16 students per bubble. Communal areas vital to interaction and socialization will reopen, including play areas for younger students. Cooking will be permitted as long as food is served by designated staff members and as per Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority regulations, such as serving food in individual portions.
Students are also set to resume Physical Education (P.E.) classes and sports including swimming with special arrangements and adaptations based on risk assessment, with schools required to sanitize recreational areas and equipment between groups.
Extracurricular activities for a school’s own students will also resume, providing schools complete a risk assessment and implement safe operation policies, including physical distancing and mask-wearing. The rental of school sports facilities to outside parties remains suspended.
“Building on our experience over the past year, and in close coordination with health authorities, educators and parents, we are confident the new academic year will get off to a great and safe start with these updated policies in place. Our priority is to ensure as many students get the chance to enjoy quality face-to-face learning, which is vital for their intellectual, physical and social-emotional development and wellbeing. We will constantly review the policies to ensure all possible measures are in place to keep our educators, students and communities safe,” said HE Sara Musallam, Chairman of ADEK.
The new policies issued by the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee also dictate that, as of August 20, students aged 16 and above must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to be allowed entry to schools.
“The policies mean all pupils aged 16 and above, as well as staff and all visitors, must be fully vaccinated with a UAE approved vaccine to access the school premises, whether within or outside school hours. The vaccinations must be verified on the ALHOSN app prior to returning to school at the start of the academic year,” said HE Amer Al Hammadi, ADEK Undersecretary.
Students and school staff with vaccination exemptions can enter school premises provided the exemption is verified on the ALHOSN app or through an official letter from a Department of Health-Abu Dhabi authorized vaccination provider such as SEHA or Mubadala Health.
Students set to turn 16 years old after schools reopen who wish to continue face-to-face learning in school, must receive a first dose of a UAE-approved vaccine within four weeks of their birthday, which must be reflected on the ALHOSN app. Parents must ensure these students complete their full vaccination journey in a timely fashion.
To ensure the safe return of students and support national vaccination efforts, ADEK is collaborating with Department of Health - Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Public Health Center, Mubadala Health and Yas Mall to service the community with a pop-up vaccination center at from August 3-7 and August 24-28. Yas Mall pop-up center is part of efforts to encourage students aged 12 and above, including university students, to receive a Pfizer- BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Students can also get a COVID-19 vaccine at any official vaccination center in Abu Dhabi.
ADEK also confirmed special arrangements will be made for students aged 16 and above who have not been vaccinated to sit critical exams in school, while student over 16 and educators who are new to the emirate will be given a grace period to complete their vaccination journey and should reach out to their schools for further details.
Within school premises, physical distancing will be scaled down to one meter within classrooms and throughout school grounds enabling increased classroom capacities to allow the maximum number of students to get as much face-to-face contact with their teachers and peers which is important for their intellectual, physical, social-emotional development and wellbeing, added the Undersecretary.
While the back-to-school policies aim to facilitate a safe return to in-class education for as many pupils as possible, distance learning will remain an option for children with chronic illnesses, for those aged 16 and above who are not vaccinated, and for those who wish to continue learning online if the model is offered by their school.