File picture of a class at Al Najah International School in Abu Dhabi, for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Abu Dhabi: All students in Abu Dhabi’s private and charter schools must return to the classroom in person from the start of next term, and they will no longer need to maintain physical distancing at school.

The emirate’s private and charter school regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), announced the relaxation of precautionary measures on Wednesday, ahead of the start of the new school term. The majority of these schools are set to begin their new term next week. Schools were accordingly sent a circular with the new regulations.

Follow-up testing

On the first day of the return to school, students need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result obtained within 96 hours. Thereafter, unvaccinated students aged 16 years and older will need to undertake a PCR test every seven days. Vaccinated students aged 16 years or more, as well as teachers and staff, will need to take a PCR test every 14 days, whereas students aged less than 16 years will take a PCR test every 30 days.

The Adek said its updated protocols follow widespread compliance with precautionary measures across the emirate’s school community, which have enabled the safe return to education ecosystem normalcy.

The mandate to resume in-classroom learning applies to all students, although some pupils can be exempted if they present an attested ‘high risk’ medical report that confirms their inability to attend school in-person.

Face mask use

Schools will essentially be given the option to lift physical distancing requirements in classrooms, with students in grades 1-12 required to wear face masks. This new step will enable schools to return to full capacity, and empower all Abu Dhabi students to resume in-classroom education, the Adek said.

However, the full return policy excludes students exempted on medical grounds, as well as those showing COVID-19 symptoms. It also does not apply if the school shifts to distance learning due to closure requirements.

Free testing

To obtain the 96-hour PCR tests required for school return, free tests will be provided by drive-through centres operated by the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, as well as by certain private medical centres. Students aged below 12 years can also opt for a free saliva test at dedicated centres listed by the Adek on its website.

School visits

Meanwhile, all school visitors will have to continue to present the Al Hosn Green Pass if they are vaccinated; unvaccinated visitors will be required to present a negative PCR test result recorded within the last 48 hours.

Close contacts

Following the latest announcement made the Abu Dhabi Crisis, Emergencies and Disasters Management Committee for the COVID-19 Pandemic, students, teachers and staff who come in close contact with a confirmed positive case will be required to test on Day 1 and Day 7 only, or when they start showing symptoms. They also no longer need to remain in quarantine.

School closures

In contrast to the previous two years, classrooms and bubbles will no longer need to shift to distance learning if a positive COVID-19 case is detected within them. Instead, the entire school will close for three days if 15 per cent of its student body tests positive at the same time. Following the completion of the closure, close contact students must adhere to the testing schedule, while students who tested positive have to adopt distance learning till the completion of their isolation procedures.

Inspection visits

The Adek confirmed that its inspection and compliance teams will continue regular visits to private and charter Schools across the emirate to ensure the health and safety of all students.

Relaxed measures

The new updated protocols complement the latest relaxation of precautionary measures that came into effect earlier in March 2022, which allowed for masks to be removed in outdoor areas, and the removal of quarantine for contacts of positive cases. All sport activities for students aged 16 and above were also allowed on school premises, as were school trips for students in all age groups.

Updated protocols

These protocols, introduced by the Adek, apply to all private and charter schools in the emirate.

-No need for physical distancing among students.

-Face masks still mandatory in the classroom for students in Grade 1 to 12, but all students can remove masks in outdoor areas.

-Students must present a 96-hour negative PCR test result of the first day of school return. Most schools are set to resume classes on Monday, April 11.

-Follow-up testing: Unvaccinated students aged 16 years or more have to take a PCR test every seven days. Vaccinated students aged 16 years and more to take a PCR test every 14 days. Students aged younger than 16 years need to take PCR tests every 30 days.

-School closures implemented for three days only when 15 per cent of total student body tests positive. No bubble or classroom shifts to distance learning.

-Students must present a 96-hours negative COVID-19 test result on the first day of their return to school.