It is recommended to wear masks in the classrooms and other interior spaces of the schools. Safety distances should continue to be maintained to protect against infection. Self-tests for at home are available in sufficient quantity and voluntary testing at school is also possible. They are only ordered if there are “typical symptoms of a respiratory infection”.
These are the pandemic-related requirements for the start of school in North Rhine-Westphalia, which will be the first federal state to return from vacation next Wednesday. Everything can, nothing has to: This is how it should look nationwide if the corona infection situation does not suddenly and dramatically deteriorate from a summer wave that is currently leveling off to the dreaded autumn wave.
The times when at least a 14-day test and mask requirement could be ordered for everyone after the end of the holidays have been over since April of this year. Hesse, for example, has announced two “prevention weeks” after the end of the vacation on September 2nd, but the measures relate exclusively to rapid antigen tests to take home, which are given to the students but are voluntary.
However, the draft for a new nationwide infection protection law that has now been presented raises many questions about possible protective measures in schools if the feared autumn wave of the pandemic should actually start.
A mask requirement in the classroom should therefore only apply to pupils from the 5th grade “if this is necessary to maintain a regulated classroom operation”. The absolute priority is face-to-face teaching, corona-related school closures are declared taboo.
No mask requirement for elementary school students, no matter how the infection situation worsens – this means, conversely, that a mask requirement for first to fourth graders cannot be imposed even if the incidence “shoots through the roof” and the sick leave among teachers is so high that lessons are cancelled, criticized Heinz-Peter Meidinger, President of the German Teachers’ Association.
In view of the maxim of keeping schools and day-care centers open, the Association for Education and Training (VBE) calls for “clear statements based on scientific knowledge about what applies when, in order to be able to guarantee exactly that”. The head of the association Udo Beckmann said on Friday at the request of the daily mirror.
Beckmann had previously renewed his call for a nationwide step-by-step plan based on transparent criteria for the schools. Children and young people in the educational institutions must be protected from (additional) stress, especially after the last two years, just like the educational staff,” he added on Friday.
“However, I consider it dangerous to remove categorically binding protective and hygiene measures from the suitcase of options for action without anyone being able to clearly predict how the pandemic situation will develop,” said Beckmann.
Whether and when a test and/or mask is required in order to be able to guarantee the opening of day care centers and schools as the primary goal must be decided on the basis of the expertise of health professionals.
In order to coordinate this with the health ministers of the federal and state governments, Karin Prien (CDU), President of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Minister of Education in Schleswig-Holstein, was quoted as calling for a “school summit”.
When asked, she distanced herself from this term on Friday and explained that it would be good “if the school and health side were advised in a small group”.
Federal Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) had previously advocated such a “work meeting” in an interview with “Deutschlandfunk” on Friday morning. When asked what positions she would take in such discussions about compulsory masks and tests in school, Prien did not go directly into it.
“As states and as KMK, we are currently looking closely at the draft from the Federal Ministry of Health and Federal Ministry of Justice,” said Prien. After that, it is a matter of checking which of the instruments mentioned should be used after October 1, depending on the development of the infection.
“So far, there have only been vague suggestions on the table – to be used optionally by the federal states – with a mask requirement (from year 5) and the reference to tests,” says Prien. Vaccination and psychotherapeutic and psychosocial care for children and young people were on the agenda of the talks.
When asked whether a temporary test requirement should return after the summer holidays, Prien explained: “The schools across Germany are still starting the new school year on the basis of the previously applicable Infection Protection Act. There is no obligation to test there.”
Federal Education Minister Stark-Watzinger justified the mask exception for elementary school students on Friday in the Dlf interview with the fact that the “normality of children in everyday school life” is particularly important for the development of elementary school students.
This is “the reason for consideration that led to this decision”. Children can learn if they have to wear a mask all day.
However, Stark-Watzinger apparently does not want to categorically rule out school closures. Rather, she warned states, municipalities and schools to prepare for the Corona autumn with “digital stress tests”. Even if students fall ill and are absent for a longer period of time, “digital means must be used and communication channels established with the parents” “in order to react quickly”.
In a recent tweet, Elivra Rosert, a political scientist at the University of Hamburg with a focus on security research and a no-Covid expert, summed up where the journey should go after the summer holidays in order to ensure face-to-face operations: “There are recipes for open schools and day-care centers: testing; Masks, vaccinations, ventilation, small groups, HEPA filters, child sick days, education.”
But even air filters have by no means been standard in schools in the fourth year since the pandemic began. Hamburg, which a year ago was the only federal state to have mobile filter devices installed in the classrooms across the board, is now announcing that it will have them serviced completely until school starts on August 18th.
According to the country overview of the German school portal on corona measures, only Saxony is planning something in this direction so far: For better protection against corona and other infections, all classrooms in public and private schools in Saxony should have CO2 traffic lights in the new school year.
School closures are also threatened because of the impending energy crisis – albeit rather vaguely, as KMK President Karin Prien emphasizes when asked. “Currently, we can only predict to a limited extent to what extent there will be bottlenecks in the energy supply at all.”
The schools are not “critical infrastructure”, but on the other hand “protected customers” according to the gas emergency plan for Germany. “After 2.5 years of the pandemic, this must be non-negotiable,” demands Prien. “The schools remain open and no child has to freeze.”
Since the pandemic, it has been clear “that the consequences of school closures for students are dramatic”. The fact that education must have priority also applies to universities. “Continued operation must be guaranteed over the winter, even when people are present.”