Hours before his first day back at school, to try the patience of his parents, Mateo had learned to climb tall furniture, touch his face while eating and pretend to be asleep when they told him off. Nothing is normal about the staggered return to primary schools started on Thursday this week. Secondary schools follow next Monday.
A‘back to school’ marked by the (almost) hidden fear of the grown-ups and the excitement of the children, who were seeing their classmates for the first time in six months. At Mateo’s school, García Lorca primary, in Malaga, the more impatient ones started to line up at 8.30am.
'Go and play but stay apart'
Among the few things unchanged was the row of parents’ cars parked at the school gate. Friends spotted each other for the first time, and parental warnings flowed, to no avail: “Go and play, but stay apart”. All had masks on but none respected the minimum 1.5-metre distance rule.
“It’s inevitable, they’re children. But we knew that would happen. They didn’t want to go back to school. It was more to see their friends,” shrugged one mother.
Before the pandemic, the school only had one way in. Now it has four, each one for different year groups. Inside the building, it is full of new signs in the corridors and shared areas marking out routes to avoid close contact, although early on there were already bottlenecks of pupils arriving at the school gates.
The scene in Malaga was repeated throughout the province and the rest of the Andalucía region, largely without incident. Children learned the art of hygiene and parents the art of staying calm.
In some Axarquía schools, queues also built up as staff took temperatures at the gates. At San Miguel school in Nerja, one mum summed up many parents’ mood. “They have to go back because they can’t stay at home, schooling is fundamental for children.
“We are grateful for the trouble everyone is going to;the teachers, cleaning staff, caretakers, Local Police, Civil Protection. But more ought to have been done to half class sizes and lower the ratio, contracting more teachers.”
At Xarblanca school in Marbella, parents expressed concern that social distancing was going to be very difficult inside schools and that teachers had had PCR tests while “none” of the assistants had. There was also a protest at Ramón Lago school in Cancelada, Estepona.
Of the PCR tests carried out in Andalucía ahead of the opening of primary schools, only a handful showed positive. Two local schools, in La Cala de Mijas and Alhaurín de la Torre, didn’t open after staff members tested positve.