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Venues for wedding and civil-partnership ceremonies

URGENT QUESTION POSED BY COUNCILLOR CLAUDINE KONSBRUCK

As part of the pubic-health measures introduced at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the rules relating to venues for wedding and civil-partnership ceremonies were updated by the Ministry of Home Affairs (Ministère de l'intérieur) in a circular dated 4 May 2020. The text stipulates that, for the duration of the crisis, the college of the mayor and aldermen may designate a municipal building other than City Hall for wedding ceremonies. The ceremony must take place in a building owned by the municipality, where social distancing measures can be observed (20 people, at most, may attend). Outdoor ceremonies are not permitted. I would like to know whether the municipal authorities have yet drawn up a shortlist of candidate buildings for wedding and civil-partnership ceremonies, other than City Hall, e.g. the city's cultural centres.

  • What formalities must be completed by couples wishing to take advantage of this initiative?

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY THE MAYOR, LYDIE POLFER

It should be noted that the Ministry of Home Affairs circular was published in response to requests from several municipalities, whose dedicated wedding rooms cannot accommodate large numbers of people while still observing COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, they asked for authorisation to hold such ceremonies in other spaces at City Hall. Municipal law states that the wedding room is the only place in which marriages and civil partnerships can be legally formalised. For this reason, the Minister for Home Affairs took swift and correct action to inform municipal authorities that they may, in these circumstances, designate other rooms for such ceremonies. For our part, we in the City of Luxembourg have no need to use a venue other than the two designated rooms: the wedding room in the old part of City Hall, and the ceremony room on the Bierger-Center side, which had been designated as a second venue for wedding and civil-partnership ceremonies by resolution of the municipal council in order to satisfy the legal requirements. In addition, as yet, we have received no requests to hold a ceremony in any other venue. There have been two exceptions to this rule: HRH the Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume was married in the municipal council chamber, as was a former alderwoman.

Café and restaurant terraces

URGENT QUESTION POSED BY COUNCILLOR ELISABETH MARGUE

As the spread of COVID-19 slows, it would seem feasible to gradually ease the statutory restrictions introduced during the pandemic. At this juncture, it makes sense to prepare for the reopening of businesses in the hospitality and catering industry. The arrangement and surface area of restaurant and café terraces are governed by a municipal regulation dated 23 March 2015, and are subject to a licence issued by the mayor under the terms of said regulation. To ensure that social distancing rules are followed in the coming months, without too severely restricting the number of available tables, restaurant owners should be allowed a little more flexibility in arranging their terrace spaces.

  • Does the City of Luxembourg intend to grant exemptions from the regulation of 23 March 2015 to allow for the observance of social distancing rules?
  • Would it be possible to allocate additional space in the public arena for the installation of terraces this summer?
  • Has the college of aldermen received any such requests?

RESPONSE PROVIDED BY ALDERMAN PATRICK GOLDSCHMIDT

To begin with, I would like to point out that the City has exempted restaurant and café owners from terraces taxes for 2020. We are aware that terraces, when they are finally able to reopen, will not be able to accommodate their usual number of customers. For this reason, the college of aldermen will also be as flexible as possible so that restaurant and café owners can extend the space allotted for their terraces where it is feasible to do so without incurring additional costs or blocking the walkway. We are also prepared to examine the possibility of doing away with certain parking spaces in order to extend a terrace – again, with the proviso that no additional costs are incurred.

Questions relating to COVID-19

Urgent questions relating to the return to schools and foyers scolaires from 25 May in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Mayor Lydie Polfer: Three questions have been filed in relation to the organisation of the return to elementary school, scheduled for 25 May. I wish to specify that this a matter for the college of aldermen, and does not fall within the remit of the municipal council. This morning, the college of aldermen adopted the "Alternating return-to-school plan for elementary school children in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis". This plan will be further adapted over the coming days, as the City is still awaiting additional information. It genuinely has been a Herculean task. We are very grateful to all those who have been involved, particularly the Service Enseignement (Education Department), the Service Foyers scolaires (Childcare Department), the Service Maintenance (Maintenance Department), the Conservatoire and the municipal theatres. Matters have not been helped by the fact that the assumptions underlying the return to school have changed frequently over the past few weeks. The aforementioned departments have had to adapt, time and again, to new data. News of the latest change reached us this very morning, and it is very likely that there will be notified of further changes. Alderwoman Mart will provide further details shortly, but first, I invite the authors of the three written questions to put them to the council.

1) Urgent question posed by Councillors Paul Galles and Claude Radoux regarding the organisation of school activities during the coronavirus crisis

Paul Galles (CSV): I filed this question jointly with Councillor Claude Radoux. We feel that the back-to-school plan leaves a significant portion of the responsibility to the municipalities, and in particular, to the colleges of mayors and aldermen. An enormous amount of work needed to be completed within a very short space of time. I extend my congratulations to all the departments who helped successfully overcome the major logistical and personal challenges, despite numerous changes to the underlying assumptions. This manner of organising the return to school is an ad hoc approach, despite being called the "back-to-school plan".

Claude Radoux (DP): I applaud the Minister for Education's decision to reopen schools on 25 May. Most children will be delighted to see their friends and teachers again. With respect to halving the number of children per class, I would like to point out that in Luxembourg, these headcounts are already much lower than those in other countries. We would be interested to know how the City administration has responded to the numerous challenges at hand, so as to be able to improve on those responses should another crisis of this nature arise in the future. We would therefore like to ask the following questions:

"1. Could the college of aldermen give us an idea of the state of play in relation to this ad-hoc organisation of the return to school?

2. What have been the main difficulties that the college of aldermen has encountered?

3. What help has it been able to draw upon?

4. Could the college of aldermen provide us with some feedback on what the process of working with the Ministry of Education was like?"

2) Urgent question posed by Councillor Cathy Fayot regarding elementary education and foyers scolaires

Cathy Fayot (LSAP): There are a range of differing opinions as to the reopening of schools. Many children are very happy to be able to go back to school and see their friends; others less so. Remote schooling has been more of a success with some children than with others. The fact is that elementary schools and foyers scolaires will reopen next Monday. This is a highly complex issue, and it is important that people be provided with information, to reassure them as much as anything else. For that reason, I would like to ask the following questions:

"- What special measures has the City of Luxembourg put in place for the return to elementary schools for children in cycles 1–4 from 25 May?

- Will there be special signage (coloured strips, arrows, notices) in schools to show children the distances that must be adhered to and the paths they need to take (e.g. when going up stairs, keep to the right-hand side; in schoolyards at breaktimes, leave the building by door A and come back in by door B; can playgrounds in the schoolyard be used?)

- How many children are expected to be in each class? Is there a difference between the headcounts for cycle 1 and those for cycles 2–4?

- Given that headcounts will be reduced by the alternating A/B weeks system, what are the requirements in terms of staff to ensure classes run smoothly?

- How many additional teaching staff are being employed for the 19 schools run by the City of Luxembourg? How are those additional staff distributed across the various schools?

- How many supervisory staff have been taken on?

- From what time in the morning will children be allowed into school? Who will be responsible for them when they arrive?

Given that, if children go back to elementary school, childcare infrastructure also needs to be operational, the following questions need to be asked:

- How will foyers scolaires be operational from 25 May?

- In view of the fact that, as with elementary school, headcounts will be reduced, how many children can be accommodated in the various centres?

- What will happen to those children who cannot be enrolled at a childcare facility? What alternative measures will be available?

- Are there plans to increase the numbers of supervisory staff in the foyers scolaires?

- Exactly how many staff will be taken on to deal with this particular situation, and how will they be shared out (across which foyers scolaires)?

- What do things currently look like for the return to school in September 2020, as far as foyers scolaires are concerned?

Next, an important matter for the smooth resumption of classes in elementary schools, in the interests of all, is the organisation for families with one child in elementary school and one in secondary school:

- Has the A/B group system been examined in consultation with elementary schools? Thus, would it be possible for the primary and secondary school pupils in the same household to be home-schooled in the same week?

- Have parents been consulted, so that they can better organise their lives around their children's needs and their own working hours? (so all their children can be at school during the same weeks)

Finally, what conclusions have been drawn from remote schooling:

- Have all pupils had access to suitable IT equipment?

- What about those students who did not have suitable equipment? What support were they able to draw on? (e.g. borrowing equipment from school?)

- Were the learning materials and the set homework the same for all pupils within each cycle?"

3) Urgent question posed by Councillor Brömmel regarding the return to elementary schooling and care from 25 May

Christa Brömmel (Déi Gréng): I join my colleagues in expressing my gratitude to all those who have worked so tirelessly. Indeed, the constantly changing underlying assumptions has done nothing to make matters easier. Given that the city's residents have many questions, I filed the following one in writing:
"On 25 May, children in elementary school will return to class, adhering to the public-health measures and hygiene practices imposed by the Government. For elementary schools and foyers scolaires, the children in a class are to be divided into two groups of no more than 10 children each. Alternating week by week, pupils will continue their education, or continue to build on what they have learned during the previous week. From 13:00, they will be able to eat at school, then spend the rest of the afternoon at a foyer scolaire until 18:00. A great many questions and comments have been raised in relation to the organisation of this return to class, and it has even met with some opposition, due to the difficulty of proper organisation, or concerns about the spread of COVID-19 within the school population.

In accordance with article 9 of the municipal council's internal rules and regulations, I would like to put the following questions to the college of aldermen:

Parent involvement:

1. What is the current state of preparation for the return to school on 25 May? Have these preparations been made in conjunction with the parent committee? Have parents already received confirmation that their child/children has/have been enrolled?

Supervised study and foyers scolaires

2. What is the percentage of children registered in group B for supervised study (8:00–13:00, on an optional basis)? registered for a school lunch (13:00–14:00, optional)? registered to attend a foyer scolaire (14:00–18:00)?

3. How do these percentages vary in relation to the childcare agreements in place prior to the crisis? Has the City of Luxembourg had to turn pupils away from supervised study during the week, or from attending a foyer scolaire? If so, on what basis was that decision made? How many parents are affected? Are there differences from one municipal district to another? What are the reasons for this: a lack of facilities or a lack of staff?

Organisation of classrooms

4. What is the process for allocating the necessary rooms for study groups, supervised study, teaching and childcare? For how many groups of pupils/children does the City need to use spaces other than classrooms, rooms in the foyer scolaire, or other teaching spaces (e.g. music rooms)? Which other types of rooms will be converted into classrooms/childcare spaces?

5. How many groups of children will need to go to venues that are further away than their school building/foyer scolaire? Will there also be outdoor spaces available to these children, e.g. so that they can go outside during breaktime?

Staffing situation

6. Who will supervise the children during the 8:00–13:00 and 13:00–18:00 time slots? Does the Service Foyers scolaires have enough staff to cover these duties? Will the City need to take on additional teaching staff? To how many people does this apply, and to what extent will they be qualified or trained for the duty with which they are entrusted?

7. When and how will staff from the CAPEL (Creative Learning Centre) be deployed, specifically with reference to their mission of learning through play (known as "Spillpädagogik")?

Collaborations and financial aspect

8. Does the City have plans to collaborate with one or more private daycare centres?

9. Does the college of aldermen have a budget in mind for the additional costs of providing the necessary equipment for the spaces, notably IT and toys? If so, what is that estimated budget?

Transport to and from school

10. How will transport to and from school be organised? How does the City intend to encourage parents to choose active travel/sustainable transport when taking their children to school, and when picking them up?

School meals

11. School meals will also need to be served and eaten in the classroom. How will this be organised? Will there be the option for children to be provided with a hot meal? At least a few times per week? Where children are provided with pre-portioned meals: is there a plan to use reusable packaging/containers in a bid to reduce waste?

Reopening of crèches

12. Could you report on the situation with crèches, where the number of places will be drastically reduced, as there can be no more than five children in any one group?

School holidays for Pentecost

13. At this stage, can the college of aldermen provide any information as to how the school holidays at Pentecost are to be organised?"

Responses relating to COVID-19

Alderwoman Colette Mart: This morning, the college of aldermen ratified the programme for the organisation of schools and foyers scolaires until the end of the school year. Of the challenges that the City administration has faced during this crisis, laying the groundwork for the return to school on 25 May has been one of the most complex. The staff of the Service Enseignement and other municipal departments have had a very difficult task on their hands. Some staff have even worked on weekends and late into the evening to get the job done.

The plan for a return to education, which I present to you today, may yet be adapted in the coming days and weeks, as new information comes to light. As the instructions received from the Ministry of Education (Ministère de l'Education nationale) are relatively recent, everything has had to be put in place very quickly, and the fact that new instructions are constantly being added has caused no end of headaches.

The crux of the challenge was that our municipal departments (the Service Enseignement, Service Foyers scolaires and Service Maintenance) have had to work closely with the regional directorate. Our crisis management team, headed by Christiane Schaul, also played an active role in organising the return to school.

Of course, the college of aldermen has been liaising constantly with the people on the ground, so as to be able to make the right decisions. Our departments have also been working with school committees and directors of foyers scolaires, given that it is ultimately they who will ensure the success or failure of the back-to-school plan. They have had to go into the field to see where groups of children could be accommodated, and who could look after those children.

This gargantuan challenge has caused a huge amount of stress, and raised numerous questions. For example: what can we provide to the children in our care in the current circumstances? What safety measures need to be taken? Where can we find the staff we need, and what information do we need to provide to the newly recruited staff? What can we do to help the children through this crisis, assuage parents' concerns, and ensure that the teaching staff can work with the children in reasonable conditions? I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the departments in question, who have helped find suitable solutions and lay the groundwork for a return to school.

I will now respond, in detail, to the questions asked by the municipal councillors. Regarding contact with parents, we have had two video conferences with parent representatives on the school commission to answer their questions. This contact with them was a success. Alain Massen also raised a grievance with me personally, and we were able to resolve the matter to the parents' satisfaction. At the request of parent representatives, the school commission will meet again tomorrow. Other questions can be asked during that meeting. We also promised to keep parents up to date through regular video conferences, and agreed that a parent representative could make a site visit to each school to inspect the measures we have put in place on the ground. You can contact the school director with questions on that matter.

Honoré Gregorius and I are also available to answer parent representatives' questions, by phone, at any time. The parent representatives on the school commission are in contact with the parent committees at all of the schools, and will pass the information along. On the ground, teachers and the teaching staff in foyers scolaires are in direct contact with parents.

Parents have been asked to tell us about specific needs in terms of the childcare they need, and we will, of course, attempt to cater for these requirements as far as possible. We have prepared a detailed information sheet, telling parents which group their child is in, and what this means in concrete terms.

Currently, it is not easy to provide percentages or exact figures since our thinking is based on groups, so I refer you to the details of the back-to-school plan.

With the exception of schooling on alternate weeks, from 8:00 to 13:00, everything is optional. What this means is that children can choose whether or not to take part in guided study in the mornings on alternate weeks, whether to have meals in the foyer scolaire, and whether to spend the afternoon there.

In terms of enrolment, the Service Foyers scolaires has sent a form out for parents to fill in and sign. This form serves as a contract.

It is our hope that all groups will be able to be catered for; we are still awaiting the latest information on that front. As to where the groups are to be accommodated, we are using not only the classrooms in schools and foyers scolaires, but also school-staff meeting rooms, sports halls and certain rooms in the "Schwaarzt Haus" cultural centre in Cents. There is no issue with sufficient class space, because a number of classes have fewer than a dozen pupils (some, fewer than ten, even), and there is no need to split up those classes.

With our municipal staff, we have carried out a detailed analysis to ensure compliance with the recommended safety distances. Each group of children will stay in the same room for guided study in the morning and for afternoon childcare. Staff from the foyers scolaires will take over looking after the children between 12:50 and 13:00. However, these staff members will be in school from 11:00, ready to take over from the teachers if need be. According to Erny Hoffmann, 450 groups of children are currently expected to attend the foyers scolaires. However, we may see that number go down since, according to the latest instructions from the Ministry of Education, certain groups could be merged.

We have around 300 regular staff, plus 25 from other municipal departments – in particular, from the Service Sports (Sports Department), the Conservatoire and the CAPEL – along with students who have done work for the municipal authorities in the past. 40 members of our staff are currently on leave for family reasons.

We have been working closely with private childcare centres. 46 groups of children will be looked after at these centres. We need 84 additional staff from the national Education and Childcare Department (Service d’éducation et d’accueil – SEA) pool, and we are also working closely with our regular partners, Inter-Actions and Atelier Zeralda.

Whether we will have to turn children away or not depends on how many staff we are able to draw from the Ministry of Education pool. However, we have been informed that a great many people have stepped up for this task. In the pool of potential new staff are students, among others. Truth be told, this makes it somewhat harder to plan, because those students have exams at set times, and some of them are only available on certain days or at certain times. The effort required in terms of organisation is huge. The new recruits will also need to be briefed. The relevant training is scheduled to take place next Friday, at the Grand Théâtre. We need some 100 people. The 35 regular supply teachers employed by the City of Luxembourg have been added to the national pool.

Of course, we are doing everything within our power to ensure that children are provided with the best possible education and care.

We would like children to spend as much time outside as possible in the afternoons. Nobody wants children to be stuck indoors, sitting down all day. Playgrounds in schoolyards will be reopened, but only for children who attend those schools or foyers scolaires – not for local residents, because currently, it is important to ensure that children do not mingle too much.

Outings are encouraged. We want to minimise the administrative formalities, but for safety reasons, we need to be kept informed of where staff are taking the children.

The "Bëschklassen" (forest classes) will continue to run, in certain nursery schools as well as in the Bëschspillschoul (forest preschool) itself. Activities are also on offer at the nature activity centre Haus vun der Natur, but to a lesser extent, because we also need to use our school staff for these purposes.

Our foyers scolaires are surrounded by attractive outdoor spaces, and we shall be making use of them.

Of course, all rooms will be equipped with all necessary facilities. I cannot quote an exact cost at this time.

With regard to meals, we continue to work with our usual suppliers. The children's meals will be delivered to the classroom. To begin with, only cold meals will be delivered, but we hope to begin providing hot meals shortly. This represents a major challenge for our suppliers: as it is necessary to cook for numerous small groups, the packaging and the weights involved vary. Safety is our utmost priority. We are most anxious that children should be able to eat safely and healthily. Of course, any food allergies that children have will be catered for.

The Service Maintenance has also been playing an active role. The staff have arranged the chairs and benches as needed. Theatre staff have provided support in this task.

Schools and foyers scolaires are cleaned not only in the evenings between 18:00 and midnight, but also during the day. We are endeavouring to use our normal cleaning staff, and cleaning staff usually employed at the City's cultural centres are now working in schools and foyers scolaires. If this is insufficient, then we will use external contractors.

As food bags are used, waste management is an important issue. We need to examine the matter, and see whether it can be dealt with using our normal bins.

Safety measures also need to be adhered to when on buses. Given that the children are transported in two groups (A and B), twice as many buses as normal are needed. We are also aiming to provide buses for activities, so that children are not confined to the classroom.

Tomorrow, representatives from each political party will have the opportunity to ask other questions at the meeting of the school commission, which will be attended by representatives from the relevant municipal departments.

With regard to crèches, all is well. As we are only able to take groups of up to five children (half the usual number), the following decisions have been made: children under a year old will not be taken – primarily for safety reasons, but also because their parents are entitled to take leave for family reasons. The available space, therefore, can be used for older children. We believe it is very important for children aged 2–4 be able to see their friends again, and also not to lose touch with the Luxembourgish language.

Of our 80 crèche employees, 23 are currently unavailable, 15 of whom are on leave for family reasons.

For example, at the crèche on Route d'Arlon, we have been able to take on all children whom parents wished to enrol. The Service Crèches (Crèche Department) will be ready for 25 May.

We have also planned forest outings twice a week for the children in our crèches.

Mayor Lydie Polfer: I thank Alderwoman Mart for that overview of where things currently stand. As you will have gathered, not everything is 100% ready – there is still a shortfall of 80 members of staff – but if things proceed as announced by the Minister for Education, we should be able to draw enough staff from the national pool to cover our needs. Unfortunately, children cannot be admitted between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning, for reasons of both available space and available staff. The system should be up and running by next Monday. Once again, I would like to extend my thanks to all those who have helped prepare for the return to school.