After the government announced that it would reopen schools on April 19th, tremendous resistance from teachers, students, and parents formed against the decision. Despite the government’s seemingly unshakeable position, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Friday that secondary schools will only reopen on May 10th.
At the end of March, the Orbán government finally gave in to prioritize teachers in Hungary’s vaccination plan and inoculate them before reopening schools on the 19th of April. Trade unions had long been pushing for the out-of-turn vaccination of education workers, but the other part of the decision on schools’ sudden opening surprised many.
The government’s decision proved to be highly controversial and raised many concerns.
Growing fears around school reopening
As priority vaccination of education workers started at the beginning of April, many feared students and teachers must return to classrooms only a few days after teachers received their first jabs and wouldn’t be able to develop the necessary level of protection against the coronavirus.
Furthermore, currently, only the adult population is being vaccinated in Hungary, while the new U.K. variant of the virus tends to infect children more easily, causing more severe symptoms as well. This could, according to many, easily lead to an even faster spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, several problems around the execution of the priority vaccination occurred. There were reported issues around the central registration system as in some instances it declined the registration of some teachers.
Also, it seems educators of vocational schools, were placed further down on the list than other teachers (legally under the new education law they are not even considered teachers), therefore they can only get the first dose of the vaccine starting this week.
The outrage has grown to an unprecedented extent. Many teachers, students, and parents have expressed their resentment surrounding the issue.
The president of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ) called the government plan to reopen schools a “Russian roulette with teachers and students.” According to PDSZ, many teachers already said they would rather go on sick pay or paid leave.
PDSZ even published a letter drawing the attention of educators to the current law, under which employers must ensure the requirements of a non-hazardous and safe workplace, therefore on-site attendance can be denied.
At the same time, Student Movement ADOM launched an initiative named “We’re not going to school from April 19!,” calling for the cooperation of students, parents, and teachers against on-site attendance in schools. According to ADOM, reopening schools too early would do more harm than could be gained from it, especially because several experts say, it could even trigger a fourth wave. Since its launch, thousands have joined the initiative.
In the past days, several press reports have surfaced that a great many parents are also reluctant to send their children to school because of the risk of infection.
Popular history teacher, writer, and blogger, József Balatoni, started a survey on his Facebook page on Wednesday. He wanted to know how many parents would be willing to send their children to school after they reopened. In only one day 3,686 people responded. More than half (56.5%) said they do not want to let their child go to school after April 19th, and an overwhelming majority of high school seniors who will start their graduation exams next month (93%) said they won’t attend at all.
Gov’t suddenly changes plan
The government’s stance on the issue seemed rather clear in the past few weeks but suddenly changed on Friday.
At his regular Thursday press briefing, Gergely Gulyás, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, said it is not risky to reopen schools on April 19th, arguing that more than 100,000 teachers have already been inoculated and the first dose of the vaccine already provides a significant level of protection against Covid-19.
He said that while it was justified to vaccinate teachers out of turn, there were many other critical workers in the country who had not received either of their doses yet.
The government’s position quickly changed a day later when out of the blue, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that secondary schools will only reopen on May 10th after final exams have taken place.
Orbán told public broadcaster Kossuth Radio that the operative board responsible for measures to control the epidemic had also decided that the exams will be written only.
He noted that last year, too, the end-of-school exams were confined to written papers and this should be the case this year to keep matters “fair and consistent.”
The announcement is particularly interesting because it raises the possibility that plans for primary schools may also change by April 19th.
Featured photo illustration by György Varga/MTI