Children under three again allowed to attend school

After 10 days of confusion and public debate, children under the age of three will be allowed back to preschool as early as on September 21, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau (DSEJ) announced yesterday. The decision marks a reversal from the DESJ’s earlier decision not to allow these children to start the school year.
The about-turn announced yesterday came from meetings between the DSEJ and educational associations over the weekend, held to discuss the possible commencement of new school year for children under three years old.
It followed more than a week of confusion for many parents, who had criticized the regulator’s August 27 announcement as hasty and last-minute.
The initial justification given by the authority was that all returning students needed to wear masks, but that these masks were not only ineffective for small children, but additionally presented other risks if worn for extensive periods.
Data from the authorities showed that about 1,000 such children were affected from the earlier DESJ decision.
Despite the approval announced yesterday, the education authority stressed that attendance should be based on conditions that do not violate the Health Bureau’s epidemic control measures. Special measures and arrangements will be in place for additional protection, the authority said.
The five measures are: social distancing, installing partition panels in certain areas of the classroom, adjusting teaching activities and curriculum to limit physical interaction, suspending inter-class teaching, and families psychologically preparing their children for school resumption.
Schools should not allow children back into their facilities unless they have all the measures in place.
The education regulator also said that parents will have the freedom to decide whether or not they will send their children to preschool, and have the right to wait until their children turn three before sending them.
In the first decision, both the education and social work authorities recommended small children stay at home until they reach the threshold age, meaning that school commencement at the particular education level will be gradual. Once they turn three years old, they will be allowed immediately to go to school.
This proved unpopular with parents, many of whom had already purchased necessary materials to prepare for the new school year. Others were left insufficient time to look for daycare services.
On that same evening, lawmaker Sulu Sou disclosed that due to the overwhelming amount of complaints he received from parents, he sent an urgent letter to the education regulator to inquire about the basis of the decision.
With regard to nurseries, the Social Welfare Bureau did not send representatives to yesterday’s press conference, so there is no update in this respect. It means that the school year will not commence for public and subsidized nurseries. Private nurseries have the discretion to reopen, however, as the bureau has no authority over them.
Also announced during yesterday’s press conference, Macau residents will now be required to pay MOP5,600 by cash or credit card when they start their quarantine period upon entry to the SAR. Their eligibility for cost waiver will be checked and, if authenticated, the charge will be refunded to them in the relevant payment method.
Applications for any such waiver, however, must be initiated by the quarantined individuals.

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