Thousands of schools across Europe have been closed since early March when the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting nationwide lockdowns gripped the continent.
The European School in Brussels was no different, but on Thursday, after months of closure, it had everything ready to start for the new year.
This year, however, is set to be different.
“As you can see the desks are in rows and my style as an Irish teacher would never be like this. I would have them in groups of four or six and they could be in communicative learning, but unfortunately, I have to distance this in the same way my desk and the board from the children,” Marla Candon, a learning support teacher at the school, told Euronews.
The school, which welcomes children of people who work in EU institutions, has around 4,400 students, who come from across Europe. It has eight language sections, but often students mix with each other throughout classes.
Parents claim the school hosts more students than it can handle, which the President of the Parents Association, Kathryn Mathe, said is one the most concerning issues: “Common spaces like…the canteen get incredibly overcrowded at lunchtime or during breaks, and this is a huge concern for people - how the overcrowding will be handled, how the mixture of students coming from different places.
“We were hoping for a little bit more guidance, especially at this stage,” she added.
But the school’s director, Brian Goggins, explained the school follows Belgian regulations, such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and the regular washing of hands.
“Our biggest challenge is to get all our students back, to reduce the anxiety that, of course, has been felt by students, parents and staff, and really to get back to a normal school day - a normal operational for children,” he said.
Some students, however, will miss the start of school due to returning from countries or zones that require self-isolation upon their return.
This is the case for Leo and Marc who returned from their home country, Spain. According to Belgian travel restrictions, they must quarantine for 14 days. Their mother, Ana Torres Fraile, told Euronews that travelling back home will be difficult during this school year because of these limitations.
“We will not be able to travel very often or we will have to consider it differently, but I think that we have learned to be flexible in these months and that for now, we must continue to be so,” she said.
Despite the reopening of the European School and others across the continent, the pandemic has presented new complications for an already complicated task of trying to manage a school. The one positive to take from the situation is that children can finally return to some semblance of normality, even if it is a new normal.