Schools Stay Open, New Safety Measures

Schools will stay open after the spring break, but all students and staff who have returned from overseas on or after March 14 will be issued a 14-day Leave of Absence (LOA). Some had expected schools to be closed following a rise in Covid-19 infectections.
This article is part of an editorial series on Covid-19
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All MOE schools will reopen as usual on Monday, but any staff and students returning from overseas will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

With the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore, there was mounting speculation the government would close all schools. Today, however, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that all government-run schools and kindergartens will reopen after a one-week holiday on Monday – but with stricter precautionary measures. These measures will also apply to international schools when they reopen after their spring break.

The MOE says that all students and staff who have returned from overseas on or after March 14 will be issued a 14-day Leave of Absence (LOA); day zero of the 14 days will commence from the date of their return to Singapore. The MOE is taken extra precaution to help "protect the education system" from any risk posed by those who have travelled overseas during the March school holidays.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post today (Thursday) that, "Thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back."

He added:

"Our priority must be to protect the education system and keeping students safe. By protecting the system robustly, it can remain open, and lives need not be disrupted. Otherwise, many parents, including those working in hospitals and providing essential services, will not be able to go to work."

The majority of Singapore’s 90-plus international schools are open, or are currently on their spring break. However, yesterday two of Singapore’s largest international schools decided, unilaterally, to close and move to online learning. Singapore American School (SAS), which has a student body of 4,000, is closed from today for three days; Tanglin Trust School, which enrols around 2,700 students, will close its campus from today (Wednesday, March 19) until the start of the spring break on March 28.

Some international schools are extending their spring break. For example, International Community School (ICS) has added a second week its spring holiday and will deliver an online learning programme from March 30 to April 10; the school plans to reopen on April 13.

The MOE's new LOA rule means that many teachers and students at local schools may miss the first two weeks of term; depending on when students in international schools travel, they may also be prevented from going to school for two weeks.

Mr Ong explained: "I know many students, parents and coaches will be disappointed. And many students and parents will be inconvenienced. I hate to have to do this, but it is critical that we protect the system, and keep everyone who has overseas exposure to the virus away from the school population."

The LOA is in addition to the Ministry of Health's announcement regarding Stay-Home Notices (SHN), which requires all students and staff who have returned from overseas on or after March 20 to serve a 14-day Stay Home Notice (SHN).

The MOE says: "This means that affected students and staff must stay away from school and preschool for the duration of their SHN or LOA. This will take effect from 20 March. This would better ensure our schools, preschools and student care centres remain a safe environment for our students and staff."

Read more: Stay-Home Notices, what you need to know

The MOE has also cancelled all co-curricular activities at local schools, we well as reducing the group sizes in play areas and introducing more frequent temperature checks in pre-schools. Students will also be required to sit further apart in all lessons.

The MOE says: "Students on LOA, as well as those who have to stay away from school due to quarantine orders or SHN, will all be supported via home-based learning, to enable them to continue with their learning."

What is the difference between Leave of Absence and a Stay-Home Notice?

Anyone taking Leave of Absence (LOA) is allowed to leave their home during the 14-day isolation period, but only to purchase daily necessities or to attend to important personal matters.

Those issued with a Stay-Home Notice (SHN) must remain in their home at all times during the 14-day period.

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