SINGAPORE: Singapore authorities will put all students and school staff members returning from travel during the March holidays on a leave of absence, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said on Thursday (Mar 19).
Students and staff members of schools, preschools and student care centres will be given a 14-day leave of absence if they returned from overseas on or after Mar 14 - the start of the March school holidays - the ministries said in a joint press release. The date of their return to Singapore will be taken as day zero of the 14 days.
The Ministry of Health had announced that all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors entering Singapore from 11.59pm on Friday will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.
READ: Singaporeans advised to defer all travel abroad amid heightened risk of imported COVID-19 cases
"To further protect the education system, MOE, MSF and ECDA (Early Childhood Development Agency) will implement additional precautionary measures over and above MOH’s measures," said the release.
Affected students and staff members must stay away from their school for the duration of their stay-home notice or leave of absence starting from Friday.
"This would better ensure our schools, preschools and student care centres remain a safe environment for our students and staff," the release added.
Students, who will have to miss classes, "will all be supported via home-based learning, to enable them to continue with their learning", said MOE and MSF. Parents may direct questions to their respective schools.
"Parents will have to take their own leave should they need to care for their children on leave of absence or stay-home notice.
"Employers are encouraged to provide flexible work arrangements for their employees to accommodate such exceptional circumstances," the ministries added.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said it was unfortunate the stepped up travel restrictions coincided with the March school holidays.
"Thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back," he said in a Facebook post.
"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."
CCA SUSPENDED, SYF DEFERRED
Mr Ong said many parents and students were asking if the ministry could resume some activities, such as the suspended National School Games, which they have been "training very hard for".
"Quietly, MOE was closely watching the situation, with some hope that we could resume some non-contact, small scale activities.
"However, I am afraid this is now not possible," said Mr Ong, noting the rising infections around the world, including in Southeast Asia, which resulted in a surge in imported cases in Singapore.
All co-curricular activities (CCA) will also be suspended, and the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) Arts Presentation deferred, for two weeks.
"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," said Mr Ong.
He added that the ministry has to do its best to maintain "the calm we enjoyed before the March school holidays".
For two weeks starting from Monday, students in Primary 3 and above will have fixed exam-style seating, while Primary 1 and 2, as well as MOE Kindergarten students will have fixed group cluster seating.
Seating will also be assigned in canteens. Play areas will be assigned for students to play in reduced group sizes.
Classrooms and canteens will be routinely wiped down. During the March holidays, schools have been cleaned thoroughly.
"Besides cleaning all frequently used contact points, attention is given to the cleaning of washrooms, ensuring hand soap is always replenished and making sure sanitary fittings such as water taps are in good working condition.
"Other areas of cleaning include jet washing of floors in canteens and shampooing of carpets," said the authorities.
"These supplement earlier precautionary measures, such as suspension of large group and communal activities and staggering of recess times in schools," they added.
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES FOR PRESCHOOLS
Preschools will also continue implementing precautionary measures, such as health checks and temperature screening - twice a day for kindergartens and three times a day for childcare centres.
Visitors are restricted from preschools, and parents are to drop off and pick up their children outside the school, "with the advice to stand further apart from one another".
Excursions and field trips have been suspended to minimise risk of exposing children to large crowds.
Large group and communal activities such as assemblies and mass celebrations continue to be suspended.
This means children will proceed directly to classrooms when they arrive in school, where possible, and activities will be carried out in small groups. They will also have their meals in their classrooms or at staggered times.
Deployment of staff members across centres is limited, where possible.