The Ministry of Education has said schools must not introduce stricter rules to deal with the coronavirus other than those issued by the Health Board (Terviseamet), after several complaints have been made by parents.
One family complained to the ministry after their two children were sent home from Ülenurme School in Tartu following a holiday to a 'safe' country, where the infection rate was below 16 per 100,000 as a 14-day average.
The family returned from Italy on August 29 at a time when the infection rate in that country was 11.6 per 100,000, meaning it had not been added to Estonia's quarantine list, though this happened the following week after the family returned. Officials at Tallinn Airport said they did not have to self isolate.
The children started school on September 1, but were sent home on September 3 after the parents of a child in the school complained. The school decided the children must stay home until September 12.
Virology professor Irja Lutsar, who is head of the government's scientific advisory council, said the children should be able to return to school, as Italy was not on the list of unsafe countries at the time they visited it.
The Ministry of Education contacted Ülenurme School and said they had overreacted as the children had presented no signs of illness. At the same time, the ministry told the parents that schools were free to decide under what conditions pupils and staff would be quarantined. No direct assistance to the family arose from the ministry's intervention.
The school then turned to a lawyer from Kambja municipality, who told the parent that since the Italian infection rate was 19.4 as of August 29, the school was entitled to make such a decision
The younger child's teacher allowed them to return to school on September 7, but the older child had to remain at home.
Tallinn City Basic Basic School, which operates within Tallinn Secondary School of Science (Tallinna Reaalkool), reportedly also wanted to introduce its own stricter conditions, saying parents wanted any child who had traveled abroad to stay at home for 14 days. The same rules would apply if a parent has travel abroad and returns to the family home.
"This had its supporters. I think we can still make slightly stricter requirements if we agree with the parents, and they agree", the school's director, Jaana Roht, said, but acknowledged that these stricter options did not receive enough support to be implemented. "In the end, all that was left was the quarantine of children from the risk area."
Ministry: Stricter rules than official guidelines cannot be introduced
The Ministry of Education has said schools cannot introduce stricter rules than those issued by the Health Board.
Kristin Hollo, head of the external evaluation department at the Ministry of Education, said: "There are no grounds for a school to establish additional and stricter rules for self-isolation."
The Health Board's guidelines state that a person whose close relatives have arrived from a country with a high infection rate in the last 14 days, or who has been in contact with a person who has themselves in turn been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient, does not have to self isolate.
"As a result, the school does not have such a right [to create additional rules]," Hollo said, with reference to the Tallinn City Center Basic School's plan.
Hollo said anyone sent home must be provided with a clear justification, and classes should not be transferred to distance learning too lightly. The ministry says it has only received a few complaints so far.
"At the moment, there has been no complaint where no solution could be found," said Hollo.
Editor: Helen Wright, Andrew Whyte