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Rome parishes agree to lend classroom space to local public schools in need

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A student wearing a protective mask and maintaining social distancing with other students is pictured taking her final exams in late June at J.F. Kennedy High School in Rome during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

ROME — Public schools in Rome, like elsewhere in the world, are scrambling to ensure the safety of students and staff while also resuming classroom instruction.

The Diocese of Rome has offered to help with one big problem: finding enough space to educate students sitting at desks or tables six feet apart.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the papal vicar for Rome, signed an agreement July 29 with Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi and Rocco Pinneri, director general of the Lazio regional schools’ office.

Under the agreement, Catholic parishes, religious orders and institutions will identify indoor spaces that could be used as classrooms by nearby public schools when the 2020-2021 term is set to begin Sept. 14.

The “Project of Collaboration for the Resumption of Scholastic and Educational Activity in Rome” calls on the city’s public schools to draw up a list of schools in need of more classrooms for socially distanced learning.

The Diocese of Rome will draw up a list of parishes and other Catholic institutions that have parish centers, catechism classrooms, meeting halls and other spaces that could be used during school hours.

If the city decides to use an offered space, it will sign a formal contract with the parish or institute; the contract will stipulate that the city will be responsible for providing the necessary insurance coverage and for cleaning and maintaining the space. The contract also will stipulate in detail the hours the space can be used and the types of activity that can be carried out there.

With the approval of the Diocese of Rome, the city and the regional schools’ office will be responsible for making any necessary adaptations to the spaces and for furnishing them.

Msgr. Pierangelo Pedretti, secretary general of the vicariate, said the agreement shows the importance of “cooperation between civil institutions and the church community, which is necessary for ensuring the common good of all the citizens of our city.”

One item not covered by the agreement is the provision of individual desks for elementary school students, who are used to sharing a two-student desk.

Avvenire, the Italian Catholic newspaper, reported July 23 that the national association of school-desk suppliers has said it will be impossible to produce by mid-September the 3.7 million individual desks for which the Italian education department is taking bids.