Children at Abu Dhabi’s private schools will have a staggered return to the classroom, it has been announced.
Most pupils aged between four and 11 will return to in-person lessons on August 30.
Classes will resume for those in kindergarten to Grade 5 under the US system, and for FS2 (Reception) to Year 6 under the British one.
Youngsters in all other years will start face-to-face lessons four weeks later.
Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), the emirate’s private schools regulator, on Sunday announced the move, along with a series of new measures governing the return to school.
The directive aims help schools prepare for the return of all pupils and monitor how younger ones adapt to the safety measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Classroom sizes are restricted to 15 and pupils must maintain a physical distance between one another of 1.5 metres, while all private-school staff and pupils aged 12 and up, teachers and employees must take coronavirus tests.
Last month, Adek announced that all pupils would have to undergo a swab test to prove they were free of Covid-19 before returning to class in Abu Dhabi. But the new plan has been approved by Adek and the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority.
Other rules include that staff and pupils over the age of six must wear face masks at all times, and all children and employees will have to undergo daily temperature checks.
Sports and extracurricular activities at private schools in Abu Dhabi will be suspended.
Break times will be alternated between class groups to ensure pupils maintain physical distancing.
Schools will be inspected regularly to ensure they comply with the guidelines.
Earlier, they were given the choice to allow children into school full-time; on alternating days, for half days; alternating weeks; or a combination of the above. Schools had until July 30 to pick an opening model.
Also on Sunday came an announcement from the Ministry of Education that pupils at all private and public schools in the UAE can continue with online learning for the first term of school.
"Parents have been allowed to freely choose between their children's mode of attendance, face to face at school or through distance learning, for the first term, to achieve stability within the school community and to ensure the safety of our students, while meeting the requirements of physical distancing," the ministry said.
Schools across the UAE on Sunday they would readjust reopening plans in light of the Adek announcement.
Mark Leppard, headmaster at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, told parents in a letter that the school would reopen in phases.
He said only nursery to year six would be in school for the first four weeks starting August 30, and that year seven to 13 would be taught at home through distance learning.
"Through our summer planning we were able to bring all pupils back and still adhere to the 1.5m social distancing. We have today been informed that class sizes can only be a maximum of 15 students and the 1.5m social distancing must still apply. This means we will have to adjust our plan," said Mr Leppard.
"Pupils under the age of 12 will not require PCR testing. However, all children 12 and above, will require one to return to school. With the four week distance learning approach for secondary students, we recommend that you hold off on any test until we know the exact date secondary students are allowed back to school.
"This is a lot to digest at this late stage but we will follow up with more details as soon as we have had an opportunity to put a plan in place."
Iain Colledge, executive principal at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, sent a similar letter.
"We have asked for further clarification from Adek on several points and will need their response before proceeding in some areas," the letter said.
"The context that we now have to deal with is extremely complex. We therefore ask that you give us a few days to redefine our plans to ensure the maximised learning for all students. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this extended difficult period."