The government says no more distance learning will be mandated at schools once the new academic year starts next month. However, unvaccinated teachers will have to undergo regular, rapid coronavirus tests to attend work, while schools may use remote learning if they have the facilities.
Appearing at the regular government press conference Thursday, education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) cited research that distance learning, which schools used for the bulk of term-time from March 2020, has a deleterious effect on the mental health and well-being of schoolchildren.
Kersna said: "We have decided at the cabinet today that schools must stay open. Just as international organizations have recommended and the [governmental coronavirus advisory] scientific council and the Health Board say, the government is clearly in agreement that we will do everything we can to ensure that schools can conduct in-person education."
This means, Kersna said, that vaccinated children and teachers do not need to quarantine if identified as a close contact of a coronavirus carrier.
As for close contacts who have not been vaccinated, these would be tested twice while in quarantining, returning to class in the case of a negative test result, Kersna said.
"During the first and second waves, entire classes were sent home as close contacts. We won't be doing that any more." Kersna added.
Those who test positive or display symptoms of COVID-19 must naturally stay home, though: "The difference between this and the previous waves is that those who have test positive or fall sick will stay at home in the same way as a child with the flu or pneumonia would do," said Kersna. "That means we won't tell schools, as used to be the case, that they have to provide supervised learning for students remotely. We will treat them as sick children like as with any other illness."
This does not mean that schools may not install remote learning if they have the facilities, the minister added, just that the government would not impose this requirement on schools.
Kersna also cited a U.K. study propounded by the head of the scientific council, Professor Irja Lutsar, which found only 1.2-1.3 percent of close contacts actually became infected, in a school environment.
The development also means that the government needs to vaccinate at least 70 percent of 16-17-year-olds, and 90 percent of teachers, by the end of October, Kerna added.
The Health Board reported today that 72 percent of educators have been vaccinated at least once.
Unvaccinated teachers would have to take regular rapid coronavirus tests , at least through to year-end, she said.
The logistics of vaccinations in schools is to be on the cabinet's table next week, Kersna went on, but in the meantime she has urged all those going back to school in any capacity come September to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.
Editor: Andrew Whyte