Ruse, BULGARIA – On the threshold of a new school year, Bulgarian schools welcomed more than 700,000 students back to the classroom last month.
The return to in-person classes came after months of online learning in the spring, since – as it did in educational systems throughout the world – the coronavirus created chaos in Bulgarian schools.
Despite the increasing cases of covid-19 infections, the state government decided Bulgarian students should go to school in person. Only students who have concomitant diseases can choose online learning.
All schools here have to comply with general guidelines announced by the Ministry of Education and Science.
Students are obliged to wear protective masks everywhere except in the classrooms.
Teachers who instruct in more than one class must wear masks in classrooms as well.
All classrooms, hallways, laboratories, cafeterias and physical education clothes must be disinfected at least twice a day.
But the state guidelines have one big problem – they are too extensive and provide huge latitude for interpretation by school headmasters.
The document contains two types of measures, mandatory and selective. Mandatory measures include social distancing, regular disinfection and mask-wearing.
All other measures are selective, such as one-way movement and different timetables for each class.
It is up to the headmaster to decide whether to implement these selective measures or not.
In the English language school Geo Milev in Ruse, known as ELS Ruse, measures for fighting covid-19 are strictly followed and those who break the rules are punished.
All students are required to wear masks in common areas and to disinfect their hands and feet when entering the school building.
“We are trying to provide quality education during the covid-19 pandemic and at the same time protect the health of both students and teachers,” said Margarita Yanakieva, the school headmaster.
“I think the measures taken to prevent the spread of covid-19 in my school are enough,” said Mariya Georgieva, a 9th grader at ELS Ruse.
According to Georgieva, keeping social distancing between students is almost impossible.
During the breaks, large crowds of students are forming in the school hallways. The only option for preventing this is to set up one-way movement, but that is impossible because of narrow hallways in the school building.
“If we set up one-way moving, we will not answer to any fire safety regulations,” said Yanakieva.
In the case of a potentially infected student, the school nurse has to isolate the person with symptoms in a separate room and immediately call his or her parents and doctor.
Data from the Bulgarian National Operational Headquarters for fighting covid-19 shows that by the start of the school year in Bulgaria on Sept. 15 until Oct. 14, there were 172 registered cases of infected preschoolers or students and 165 cases of teachers in schools or kindergarteners.
Bulgarian regions are divided into four groups depending on the spending of the covid-19 – green, yellow, orange and red.
In the areas marked in orange or red measures are being tightened and students stop attending school in person.
Research conducted by the U-Report Bulgaria showed only 15 per cent of Bulgarian students were worried about being infected with covid-19. Forty percent said they were a little scared, and 45% of the respondents aren’t uneasy.
Kristiyan Yulzari is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.