Justice chancellor: School trod on pupil's rights in COVID-19 classroom ban

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise on
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise on "Esimene stuudio". Source: ERR

A school violated the rights of a pupil by barring them from attending classes and requiring them to isolate at home, and study remotely, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says.

The basic school (algkool) told the student they could not physically attend classes after they had returned from a foreign vacation in late October, daily Postimees reports.

However, the country the pupil had been to – during the half-term school break – was not on the foreign ministry's list of countries whose arrivals in Estonia were required to quarantine for 14 days, at the time the student had come back to Estonia.

Ülle Madise says that as a result the school did not have the right to go against a government order and impose their own restrictions, and should allow the pupil to return to class.

Schools are generally using a hybrid system of in-class learning alongside remote learning from home, with exceptions only used if there is a legal basis, such as if an external authority makes the recommendation for individual learning or if the child's parents requests home-based study for health reasons, BNS reports.

"As a result, if a school prohibits the child from taking part in learning in-school in accordance with its regular daily schedule, this [decision] must be based on the law," she said.

At the time the student arrived back from vacation, arrivals from Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Norway, Greece and Cyprus were exempt from quarantining, so far as European countries go.

The foreign ministry updates its list of countries requiring quarantine each Friday.

The school's principal in response to Madise's inquiry that the relevant act – the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act – imposes on schools the obligation of ensuring mental and physical security at school.

The principal added that while each family can make its own decisions in terms of how they spend the school break, these decisions must not jeopardize the health and safety of other pupils, staff and others at the school, meaning the decision was warranted since the country they had been to had a high coronavirus infection rate despite not being on the quarantine list.

The principal also cited a recommendation by the Ministry of Education and Research, that all students may self-isolate after returning from any foreign country, as its basis for making the decision in question.

However, Ülle Madise said that since the ministry's recommendation is just that, and is not legally binding, the school cannot base its course of action on this, noting that this was also the responsibility of the ministry itself.

"I understand that schools have currently been put in a very difficult situation as they wish to act in accordance with the law and the state's instructions. I would hereby like to draw the attention of the Ministry of Education and Research to the fact that recommendations given to schools must be compatible with the law in force," she added.

The Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act imposes the responsibility of assessing the threat of the virus and establishing restrictions on the Health Board (Terviseamet) and the government, not the education ministry alone, Madise went on.

"A school cannot establish a more extensive self-isolation requirement for curbing the spread of COVID-19 than that introduced by a competent authority, on the basis of the law," she said.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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