AK: Confusion over schoolchildren quarantine regulations causing headaches

Class-in-progress at the Tallinn Kanuti hobby school (photo is illustrative).
Class-in-progress at the Tallinn Kanuti hobby school (photo is illustrative). Source: Tallinna Kanutiaia Huvikool

A distinction between coronavirus quarantine rules at schools and at extra-curricular groups, sometimes referred to Estonia as hobby schools (Estonian: Huvikool), is causing headaches for parents and pupils alike, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Sunday. The problem has raised questions as to whether schoolchildren identified as close contacts should quarantine at all, given the lack of provision for distance learning, unless the close contact came via the home.

Many students are still in quarantine as close contacts, though schools are seeing no widespread coronavirus outbreaks at present, AK reported. When the new academic year started a little over a month ago, the government had already put in place in-class learning as the norm, rather than remote leaning.

One parent, Julia, whose son is in the third-grade, said that the on-off quarantining was causing problems.

She said: "We got a second notification in September and a second time in quarantine or isolation in September."

"The difficulty is that we don't know how to plan our lives at all, how to go to work, because we never know if you will have a child tomorrow and even this simplified insulation doesn't make anything easier. Since the contact child was just in training, it turned out that he was not allowed to go to school," said Julia.

This means that the child has been at home most of September, but without the provision of online lessons as happened in the previous academic year, when remote learning was the norm.

Parents expect the Health Board (Terviseamet) to give clear instructions, but have so far failed to do so, Julia said.

"I got a notification Sunday night, which said there was a child in quarantine. I immediately started thinking if that meant going to school or not, so I called the Health Board. As it turned out, they doesn't know either, because they don't control the school directly. They just give out information according to their knowledge.

"Then he went to school for a few days, and then it transpired that he shouldn't have, because the contact had been made specifically during a training session," Julia went on.

Head of the government's coronavirus advisory board Professor Irja Lutsar said she found the distinction between in-class, in-training or social contacts confusing.

Mapping close contacts among school and kindergarten children could in fact be ditched, she said, and only those who are actually sick stay at home-particularly since while infections are picked up at home, those who contract the virus while at school make up only about 9 percent of the total, and in most cases are symptomatic, she said.

Lutsar said: "Yes, one can see that one thing is home contacts, where you really have to stay home. If you have a sibling or mother-father sick at home, you shouldn't go to school. But those that are out-of-home contacts could have common rules applied."

This might involved situations: "Where, if a child becomes a contact via training, they can continue until they develops symptoms of the coronavirus," Lutsar said.

The Health Board also petitioned the social affairs ministry last week, to end testing among school children and the isolation of close contacts.

The current situation has affected competitions, drama performances and the like, and has even negatively impacted children's motivation for these activities, AK reported.

The Tähtvere Dance Club in Tartu says it has seen a 30-40-percent fall in attendees after earlier restrictions caused children to lose interest in the activity.

The club's leader, Berit Piir, said: "If they can't have a situation where they have to take these lessons with Zoom, which definitely motivates them, then they feel left behind, their friends are far away, and their mentor, who is often a teacher, is also away. This can ultimately lead to children wanting to give up, as they feel that they are no longer part of the larger whole we have created here."

The same applies to sports and other extra-curricular activities, AK reported – for instance Julia's son has been confined to kicking a ball around the back-yard all month, while his mother is still having to pay a monthly training fee, one which largely goes unused.

The difference in rules between general education schools and hobby schools is aimed at curbing spread between the two, but these rules are not being adhered to strictly, AK reported.

It has also led to a situation where, for instance, a child might be forbidden to go swimming with a swimming school or club dedicated to that activity, but may still do so with their own, general school, if the latter organized an event at a pool.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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