Ministry: New school year COVID-19 guidelines recommendations, not commands

A class in progress at Pelgulinn high school in pre-pandemic days.
A class in progress at Pelgulinn high school in pre-pandemic days. Source: ERR

The Ministry of Education has said that guidelines it is providing to schools ahead of the academic year starting on September 1 are just that, and not mandatory responsibilities, adding that these have taken on board lessons learned during the spring coronavirus peak and are aimed at avoiding a return to remote learning.

Estonian schools have not had in-classroom teaching since March, due to the pandemic. After some discussion about schools returning early, in mid-August, for the 2020-2021 academic year, the decision was made to stick to the traditional September 1 first day of school.

Some schools themselves do not see any problem with the ministry's approach, and its guidelines, which are issued jointly with the Health Board (Terviseamet).

"Estonia is such a state governed by the rule of law that the school is run by the school principal, and if the school principal receives the instructions, he or she will probably make the right decisions according to the size and location of the school and the wishes of the people around him," director of the Pelgulinn high school in Tallinn Tõnu Piibur told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK).

Kristi Vinter-Nemvalts, undersecretary at the education ministry, noted that the forthcoming guidelines will contain recommendations rather than obligations, reflecting the different sizes and make-up of schools nationally while still ensuring day-to-day school life could be organized so as to minimize close or physical contact.

The guidelines will also contain provisions for dealing with any localized COVID-19 outbreak and make clear where the chain of responsibility lies, be it with the ministry, school leader or other authorities – something Vinter-Nemvalts said had been lacking in spring.

A return to remote learning as took place from March to the end of the school year, with students having classes from home, online, and many exams made optional or even canceled, was unlikely, Vinter-Nemvalts told AK.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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