New desks and criminal liability: concerns about the reopening of schools

20.07.2020 – 12.45 – The Covid-19 emergency, concerns about the reopening of schools, and the ANP, the National Association of School Directors, also intervenes.
To respond effectively to the security measures and the distancing of students, in addition to identifying new spaces, about 2 and a half million single-seat desks are needed, those of new conception that have been much talked about (and which have become an element of political clash between Minister Lucia Azzolina and the opposition; in Veneto, Councillor Elena Donazzan has denounced them as “not approved in Italy”, potentially dangerous and unsuitable for teaching in our school culture).

However, although lessons are scheduled to start in September, the new desks will not be available before late October (provided that it is possible to respect this date) and there is a big problem with the storage of the old desks (where to put them? What to do with them?). Antonello Giannelli, president of the ANP, confirmed the availability of the necessary funds (about one billion euros, provided for by the so-called August Decree) to make up for the lack of space by renting new premises by each school authority; but the perplexity always falls on the time that is missing before the first day of school (we are now over the middle of August) and on the desks, which will not be available in September. The school directors will have to guarantee the safety of students and teaching staff, organizing teaching activities according to the space and means available; and the ANP has drawn up a vademecum to help school directors.

These are its main points:

  • Obligatory use of face-masks for the entire duration of the lessons, starting from 6 years of age;
  • Body temperature control at home and no admittance to the classroom above 37.5 °C;
  • Minimum distance of 1 meter to be respected in all rooms. School directors are asked to apply measures such as:
  • Enforcement of hygiene and sanitation rules;
  • Buy personal protective equipment (gels, masks and gloves) and organize the work schedule of the school staff for the sanitization of all rooms and surfaces touched by the students;
  • Make sure that the standard spaces available are respected and that the distance of 1 meter is maintained; the meter of distance is to be understood “from lip to lip” of the students in the classes, and the obligation to wear the mask (or to speak from behind a protective wall) also applies to the teacher;
  • Once the spaces available have been identified, the managers will be able to decide how to remodulate the entry and exit times of students and school teachers or to organize double shifts if necessary;
  • There should be differentiated routes for entry, exit and use of the toilets, with relative signs;
  • Depending on the space available, additional teaching staff can be requested if necessary;
  • There is the possibility to integrate the teaching in the classrooms with remote teaching (the measure is currently provided only for high schools, but can be extended to other classes of students if the number of contagions should return to rise again in a way considered “worrying” by the Ministry).

The principal must also:

  • Remind the students and families to measure the temperature at home, making the rules known;
  • Determine the premises where to isolate suspicious or symptomatic cases (for the school, it is therefore necessary to think also of these places of isolation);
  • Appoint the responsible physician and follow the protocol of the local health authorities responsible for the treatment of suspected or symptomatic cases.

The principals are also criminally liable if they do not “diligently” comply with the preventive measures and the security protocol given to them by the competent local health authority. It is a responsibility, for principals, which is not wrong to define as enormous; principals who already find themselves managing such delicate situations as the guarantee of security measures and the organization of school activities in compliance with anti-Covid regulations.

For this reason, the president of the ANP, Antonello Giannelli, argues that it is right to mitigate the criminal responsibility of the school managers in the management and supervision of the school, and that the meticulous implementation of the protocol should apply as an exemption from the criminal point of view.
The school start is, therefore, full of obstacles and has a deadline that, to date, seems impossible to meet. Private institutions and foundations such as ITS (the flagship of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia), in the midst of uncertainty, are not much better off and see a very hot autumn looming where the quality of training and preparation given to students are at risk.