Authorities not on the same page with distance learning

An empty classroom (photo is illustrative).
An empty classroom (photo is illustrative). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Education and Research thinks sending a class to distance learning in case of an infected student or teacher should be coordinated with the Health Board. The board, however, says the school manager should make the decision. The city of Tallinn allows everyone to go on distance learning.

Tallinn education department manager Andres Pajula told ERR that there were 130 classes in the city last week, in which a coronavirus infection was discovered. There were 200 students and 30 teachers infected.

"The position of the Tallinn education department's is that if there are six or seven infected people in a class, it is more reasonable to send the class to distance learning to clear the outbreak," Pajula said.

Despite the education ministry sending out directives to keep schools open and expecting schools coordinate with the Health Board and the ministry itself when sending classes to distance learning, that is often not the case.

Pajula said if there are infected students or teachers in a classroom, the Health Board's recommendations do not see that class being sent to distance learning. "For schools to be kept open as long as possible, it is reasonable to isolate potential infected people," he said.

"If there are many, it is reasonable to send the class to self-isolation for some period. All schools, who wish to do so, have the education department's support. Many schools have asked for it so far," Pajula added.

Responding to a question about the decision-making process of bypassing the Health Board when sending classes to isolate, Pajula said it is up to the school to make decisions on study organization. Either way, they have the institution's support.

Tallinn's position on the matter came as an unpleasant surprise to education ministry adviser Mario Kadastik. "Obviously, this does not coincide with our recommendation to have distance learning be the final straw," Kadastik said. "It is obviously an unpleasant surprise if schools implement this option without consulting with the Health Board."

He added that sending a class to distance learning must be completely justified and making decisions hastily is not the goal of the current system.

Andres Pajula explained that sending classes to distance learning is justifiable even to test for close contacts, but Kadastik did not agree with him because the results of a rapid test are clear within 15 minutes and not a few days.

Health Board does not have overview of Tallinn

Health Board's northern region manager Margit Kallas said the board does not know of any classes on distance learning in the North region. Pajula confirmed that there are four schools in Tallinn, in which there are at least three or four classes on distance learning. A total of multiple dozen classes.

Kallas said school managers can make the decision to send classes to distance learning for a few days if it is necessary. She added that the Health Board only deals with larger outbreaks, where infection lines must be interrupted.

Kallas added that the Health Board can only offer recommendations and the final decision to send a class to isolation can only be made by the school manager.

The board knows of at least 2,000 students deemed close contacts that have been tested in Tallinn over the first two weeks of the school year. Some 60 of these students tested positive for the coronavirus.

While earlier practice would have seen the remaining close contacts stay in self-isolation for 10 days, they have the option of continuing contact learning in case of shortened quarantine.

No classes on distance learning in Tartu

Tartu's department of education manager Riho Raave said there have been no classes sent to distance learning so far. He pointed out that 92 students and 12 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 this school year - a rate higher than last year.

He added that data gathering is still ongoing and there will likely not be as many infected people going forward.

The city follows the directives provided by the education ministry very closely and classes are only sent to distance learning in case the Health Board considers the situation as very critical. Raave added that while some classes have been on distance learning this year, they have already returned to school.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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