Kersna: Court's remote learning ruling proves ministry in the right

Minister of Education Liina Kersna (Reform).
Minister of Education Liina Kersna (Reform). Source: Government Office

Education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) has said that a recent court ruling which has overridden mandatory remote learning for those school pupils whose parents challenged the decision, and their classmates, for a temporary period, proves that the ministry is right in saying in-class learning is the main means of education which should be in use.

Essentially, the court ruled that remote learning should be a decision first and foremost for the Health Board.

The Tallinn Administrative Court had issued interim injunctions in three cases in which parents challenged the decisions to put schools on remote learning, in so doing prohibiting remote schooling for students without the prior consent of the Health Board.

The interim relief issued is aimed at guaranteeing the fundamental right to education, ERR reports.

Tallinn municipal schools were put on remote learning by Tallinn City Government, and not the national government, with grades four to eight staying at home after coming back from the half-term break on November 1, while other pupils continue to attend school.

Education minister Liina Kersna (Reform) said of the ruling that: "The administrative court confirmed what has always been emphasized by the Ministry of Education and Research: Contact education is the primary and main form of learning, given the regulation of basic education; distance learning can create learning gaps and be detrimental to mental health."

Kersna said that teachers receiving booster doses and vaccination rates rising, to over 64 percent of 16-17-year-olds and close to 50 percent of 12-15-year-olds, gave cause for reassurance, while the move up to 13th place (from 15th) in Europe in terms of youth vaccine coverage did same.

"With high vaccination coverage among schoolchildren and schools taking all safety measures, we can continue to provide the best education in the world for our children and young people, also under conditions of the spread of the virus," Kersna said.

Kersna said that the recent introduction of rapid testing in schools had led to around 1,700 cases being uncovered since schools returned from the autumn half-term break at the start of the month, which she said also spelled improved safety.

The minister expressed her gratitude to those families who applied for interim legal protection over the issue of remote learning.

She said: "The interim legal protection applied by the administrative court confirms that referral to distance schooling to prevent the spread of the virus must be a reasoned and considered decision made in conjunction with the Health Board. While the litigation continues, the initial legal assessment reassures us that we have been on the right track."

Tallinn Administrative Court ruling

The first-tier Tallinn Administrative Court ruled Friday that schools did not opt ​​for distance learning for educational reasons, but to avoid endangering the health of students and teachers, via the risk presented by the coronavirus.

This meant that the decision required professional knowledge, but the risk the virus presents, as an infectious disease, is a matter for the Health Board (Terviseamet) and not schools, the court found.

This meant that the board had not been directly involved in deciding whether or not to direct schools to remote learning, nor whether risk could be mitigated via other means.

The Ministry of Education and Research has published guidelines on its website on how to reduce the risk of infection, but their use has not been analyzed, the court found.

Further remote learning for the applicants is barred without the prior consent of the Health Board, and the initial legal protection has been applied until December 23

The court found contact teaching the main means of teaching and study, and using an alternative means must have equivalent quality guaranteed.

Remote learning may have detrimental effects on students' mental health and well-being, due to isolation and a lack of socialization, while other considerations of a school's functions – in addition to solely learning – must be accounted for, the court found.

The interim relief is aimed at guaranteeing the fundamental right to education, the court found, while the Health Board is tasked with explaining to schools health risks to students and teachers, including any decision to continue contact training for a certain period of time and possible alternative methods of virus control.

The intial legal protection only applies to the specific classes and schools involved in the complaint.

The ruling can be appealed at the second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court within 15 days, ERR reports.

Remote learning is not applied nationwide, but rather in Tallinn, in grades 4 to 8, initially in the week starting November 1, and extended the following week.

The remote learning applies to municipal schools and not private schools, while other municipalities who have used remote learning for schools in the past two weeks include Pärnu and Narva.

Remote learning came in at a time when coronavirus rates were soaring and the healthcare system facing meltdown, it was reported, as hospitalizations neared the 600-mark and deaths relating to the virus were daily in double figures.

The R-rate of infection has fallen to 1.0 since then, while hospitalizations are back below the 600-mark (at 525 on Saturday) and daily infection rates have started to dip into three-figure numbers.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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