ARCHIV - 24.09.2019, Bayern, München: Ein Junge einer 2. Klasse arbeitet in einer Grundschule im Klassenzimmer an einem Arbeitsblatt. Der Lehrermangel wird sich an den bayerischen Grund- und Mittelschulen zu Beginn des neuen Schuljahrs im September voraussichtlich weiter verschärfen. (zu dpa «Rektoren müssen nachsitzen - Lehrermangel "schlimmer als gedacht"») Foto: Sven Hoppe/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

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 14 days of masks were mandatory for all levels in the classroom after the end of the holidays have been over since April of this year. The draft for a new nationwide infection protection law, which has now been presented, raises many questions about possible protective measures in schools.

A mask requirement in the classroom should 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.

“But I think it’s 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 requirement 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. Then it is a matter of checking which of the instruments mentioned should be used after October 1st, 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 obligation to test 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”.

Elivra Rosert, a political scientist at the University of Hamburg with a focus on security research and a no-Covid expert, recently summed up in a tweet 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, vaccination, ventilation, small groups, HEPA filters, child sick days, education.”

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 also be guaranteed in presence over the winter.”