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Coronavirus: Schools Find It Hard to Comply with Epidemiological Protocols

Fanni Kaszás 2020.08.25.

The new school year starts in one week, which the government is planning to conduct with regular classroom teaching for the time being – digital education is not yet seen as justified. However, schools have to comply with a strict epidemiological protocol to prevent the risk of infection among students. According to Péter Horváth, President of the National Teachers’ Chamber, schools will be in trouble after the start of September if they want to comply with the protocol in all respects.

The new school year starts on September 1st, and the government has sent out the epidemiological protocol to the schools in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, when hundreds of thousands of students go back to school after the summer holidays and the last school year, which ended abruptly due to the pandemic. The protocol states that as the classification of neighboring countries is visibly changing and the spread of the epidemic is difficult to predict, the public education sector needs to be prepared for protection and prevention, and develop procedures that provide adequate support to identify and better support targeted interventions where necessary in institutions more exposed to the coronavirus.

According to the protocol, thorough, all-encompassing disinfectant cleaning must be performed in all public educational institutions. Only healthy, asymptomatic students, and teachers or workers can visit the institutions. Crowds must be prevented during the school year both on the premises of the institution and in front of the institution building. Classrooms should, as far as possible, accommodate students more loosely, including occupying larger rooms or other available rooms where appropriate. It is allowed, but not obligatory, to wear a mask during teaching hours and classes.

photo: Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI

The Ministry of Human Resources (EMMI) recently announced that in contrast to the “misinformation” circulating in the press, the protocol sent to schools did not require a 1.5 meter safety distance to be maintained during lessons. However, the action plan emphasizes the importance of distance in public spaces, such as in corridors, as students from different classes can also mix. In order to avoid crowded public spaces, the bell order and the start of lessons should be altered so students from different classes would not mix with each other.

It is recommended to keep physical education classes outdoors depending on the weather. During classes, tasks that require close physical contact should be avoided. The protocol also states that when organizing an event due in the first semester with the simultaneous presence of a large number of students or teachers (e.g. school year opening ceremony, ball, prom, cultural programs), the institutions should take into account the rules set by the operational staff (e.g. number of participants) and hold the events in open spaces if possible.

Antiviral hand sanitizer must be provided at the entrances to the institutions, attention must be drawn to its use, and paper towels must be provided for hand wiping. Children and students should receive detailed information on the basic rules of personal hygiene at the appropriate level for the given age group and taught so-called ‘cough etiquette.’ Special attention should be paid to continuous or regular, increased intensity of natural ventilation, which applies to all enclosed spaces, including corridors, as well as social rooms.

If the coronavirus still appears in an institution, the Human Ministry and the National Public Health Center (NNK) will jointly examine whether it is necessary to order a different work schedule at the institution. Then the Operative Board decides on the introduction of an out-of-classroom digital work schedule and they also decide on its termination. The protocol also states that students who are at risk of viral infection can stay at home with a medical certificate.

Teachers’ unions have concerns

Shortly after the publication of the protocol, Péter Horváth, the president of the National Teachers’ Chamber, told InfoRádió that schools would be in trouble after the start of September if they wanted to comply with the epidemiological protocol in all respects. Horváth believes that the letter drafted by the Ministry of Human Resources is a very important document that clarifies what schools should do in any case and indicates possible steps to avoid large crowds appearing in institutions at the same time. He noted, however, that “it is good that the phrase ‘if possible’ has been included at certain points,” because institutions do not see every rule as feasible.

He added that the protocol also states that ‘it is the responsibility of the maintainer to provide the cleaning and disinfectants needed to carry out the major disinfection cleaning and regular disinfection cleaning.’ Regarding the continuous provision of these, the president stated that there can always be problems, but obviously it is basically up to the maintainer to solve this.

Péter Horváth said he would find it very useful to have one hand sanitizer in every classroom that students and teachers could use when entering and exiting the classroom by simply reaching to it, however, it is not yet known what resources will be provided to schools. He added that he hopes there will be no problem with quantity and quality. Horváth also stressed that older school buildings are not in an overly good position; if we think only of the toilets,  the front doors are narrow for example, and in many places there is no paper towel dispenser next to the washbasin, so some of the points of the protocol would be harder to carry out.

The Teacher’s Democratic Union (PDSZ) also expressed their concerns in a letter. The biggest problem for the union is that while according to the epidemiological action plan issued by the ministry, students at risk of viral infection can stay at home with a medical certificate, “at-risk and chronically ill teachers, educators, and workers are not protected by any regulations.” The association also drew special attention to the fact that 7% of teachers are over the age of 60. They say that “at least 42% of teachers are at risk for coronavirus infection. That is, according to our calculations, no less than 58,800 educators. The number of students they teach, taking into account the average class size, is 1.2 million.”

featured photo: György Varga/MTI


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