EPIDEMIC: Germans are the first Europeans to return to class, fearing a second wave of the coronavirus covid-19 virus
August has barely stretched its first rays of sunshine and titillated our desire for beaches when the Germans are already starting to start the school year (no longer complaining about living in France): the 150,000 students of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are the first European schoolchildren to return to their desks in a near-normal configuration after months of hiatus and mostly online lessons.
A return of course not like the others with the coronavirus and the anxiety of a wave of fall contamination. But “the children needed to be present at school because we had to prevent the delay from increasing”, explains Steffen Kästner, director of the CJD Jugenddorf-Christophorus school in Rostock.
“We hope everything will go well”
The establishment, which brings together middle and high school, accommodates 1,350 students. Only two are missing on the decision of their parents, “who belong to a group at risk”, he says, but all the teachers are present. “We hope everything is going to be okay. We just don’t know where they have been on vacation, ”he admits, recalling that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern remains, with only 20 deaths out of 9,148 in Germany, the least affected region of the country.
However, the average of 500 new weekly cases is worrying. “Life goes on”, we will now have to live with the virus, estimates Kay Czerwinski, representative of the parents of pupils of this Land and of the CJD.
Smile, you are airy
In agreement with the local authorities, the establishment decided to stick mainly to the common basis of hygiene measures adopted in mid-July by the Länder. Namely: regularly ventilated rooms, the exclusion of pupils with symptoms and the possibility for educational staff to be tested free of charge.
The pupils are grouped into age groups within the establishment so that the 6th-5th grade no longer crosses the 4th-3rd grade, for example, in particular with a shift in class hours. If a positive case arose, this system would avoid closing the whole school but only placing the class in quarantine.
Masks everywhere present or not?
They must also, in this establishment, wear the mask in the corridors, a measure however not compulsory in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But in practice, it is difficult for many to fully comply with the health protocol. Some people forget for a moment, through an embrace, the barrier gestures. The classes arranged in an “L” around the teacher do not allow real physical distancing.
Other regions, more fearful, have decided to go further. In Berlin (start date August 10) or Bavaria (September 7), students and teachers must wear the mask throughout the establishment, with the exception of classrooms and playgrounds. In Brandenburg (August 10), teachers will have to wear a mask at all times.
Big German deficit
Insufficient measures, according to the president of the National Association of Teachers, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, who, for lack of a “lack of preparation” of the establishments, fears “an enormous chaos”. He pleads for more distance learning courses.
Except that Germany shows a “big deficit” on this subject, estimates Kay Czerwinski, as well because of a disparity of coverage of Internet on the territory as of a “lack of training” of the teachers. This digital divide risks increasing inequalities in the event of a second wave.
Back to normal
Not to mention that some courses cannot be provided due to the fact that teachers belong to a group at risk. The Association of Philologists has identified some 400 in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Faced with all these difficulties, it would be “illusory” to think that schools “will return to normal functioning”, warned Saskia Esken, leader of the Social Democrats, minority coalition partners in Angela Merkel’s government.
Another unknown does not facilitate the resumption of classes: how contagious are children, already less likely to contract a severe form of the disease?
A recent American study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics affirms that young children could be important propagators of the virus in the population, a hypothesis going against the current discourse.