New school year to start with full classrooms, government says

Schoolchildren in Estonia.
Schoolchildren in Estonia. Source: Marko Tooming/ERR

Schools in Estonia will operate at full pupil capacity once they go back on September 1, the government said Tuesday, as part of a raft of restrictions-lifting and altering. Tallinn schools may impose additional restrictions, however.

Prior to the decision, schools may have had to combine in-classroom learning with the remote learning used from March to the end of the last school year, keeping classroom occupancy to 50 percent.

"The trend is to make school life as normal as possible," said Liisa Tagel, Ministry of Education spokesperson, on the rationale for the move.

Tagel's ministry is due to send schools more detailed guidelines on curbing potential COVID-19 spreads on Wednesday – guidelines which it had wanted to send out earlier in the week but which had to wait for the government's decision on occupancy.

Tallinn schools, however, will have to wait another week for the guidelines as the city government mulls extra restrictions.

Distance learning will need to be in place at schools in any case, Tagel went on, since those exhibiting even mild symptoms – potentially those of the coronavirus – must remain at home regardless of if they are willing and able to do schoolwork.

Tallinn does not rule out additional restrictions

Tallinn city government says it may impose additional restrictions over and above the national regulations, regarding the coronavirus, adding these will be sent out on August 25.

The city government has declined to say whether this would include overriding the government's removal of a 50 percent classroom occupancy limit.

The education ministry additionally says that parents of schoolchildren, as well as their teachers, should consider any foreign travel they may have taken, or planned to take in the last couple of weeks of the holidays, in the light of coronavirus rates in other countries.

Returning from a coronavirus high-risk (set at over 16 confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants reported over the preceding 14 days) country until Tuesday required a 14-day self-quarantine period, which for any teachers or schoolchildren who had been in high-risk countries (currently the majority of EU and EEA nations – ed.) would mean they would not have been able to attend school on September 1 in any case.

The government opted to replace the self-quarantining requirement with COVID-19 testing on arrival on Tuesday morning, though this development is at an early stage and has not been implemented yet.

The authorities may still require self-quarantining in the case of schools, Liisa Tagel said.

The ministry is additionally replacing its traditional start-of-school-year press conference with two separate press conferences, one general, and one coronavirus-focused.

The conferences take place Wednesday as well, in tandem with the ministry guidelines being published, which Tagel said should ensure consistency of message.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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