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Opposition Slams Orbán’s Remarks on Containment Measures in Schools

MTI-Hungary Today 2020.03.13.

Opposition parties on Friday slammed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s remarks regarding necessary measures in schools amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Socialist (MSZP) lawmaker Ágnes Kunhalmi, the deputy head of parliament’s educational committee, insisted that Orbán had “threatened” teachers with placing them on unpaid leave in case of a comprehensive school shutdown.

Kunhalmi noted that Hungary declared a national “state of emergency” and introduced a “special legal order” on Wednesday. In such a situation, the government has the power to deviate from legislature, she said.

The government has the power under the “special legal order” to impart legislation acknowledging a shortened academic year as full, she said. Likewise, the government has the power to place teachers on paid leaves in case of a shutdown, she said.

Money to pay the teachers for the period in question had been included in the 2020 budget, Kunhalmi said. There is no reason to strip them of paid leave, she added.

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Kunhalmi called it a “stupid argument” that schools should remain open because children are “not involved” in the epidemic. Children can also contract the virus and infect others, she said. Keeping schools open in the current situation is “risky”, she said.

Kunhalmi also noted that in the case of a confirmed Covid-19 patient, no tests were conducted on the patient’s child, family and the child’s class in a Budapest high school. Kunhalmi called on the government not to “skimp” on tests for the virus.

At another, online press conference, a lawmaker of the Párbeszéd party said the government should prolong the spring break in schools and bring its date ahead to double as a containment measure.

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Bence Tordai called on the government to consult trade unions on procedures for the remaining academic year and possibly on reducing the work load in schools. He called on the government to ensure full wages for teaching staff and “stop threatening them with completely baseless ideas like an unpaid leave.”

Tordai insisted the government was dragging its foot on a shutdown because its primary concern was GDP growth and not people’s health.

He called on the government to develop an “action plan to protect society”, to modify this year’s and review next year’s budget.

Tordai proposed that parents keep their children home on their own responsibility, despite a government ban on such actions. “Parents can be smarter and wiser than the government … let us start a movement of civil disobedience, if you like,” he said.

Párbeszéd will submit an action plan of its own to parliament next week, Tordai said. The party is proposing a hike to minimum pensions and fostered workers’ wages and raising the family allowance for single parents and large families, he said.

Opposition Jobbik deputy leader Balázs Ander urged shutting down schools to combat the spread of the virus. This move has already been made in two dozens of countries, including 15 of the 28 European Union members and the other three countries of the Visegrad Group, Ander told a press conference. He cited the Italian model to continue paying teachers their wages and said the introduction of remote education could prevent the high number of cancelled classes which would make it necessary for pupils to repeat the year.

The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) called on the government to shut down schools and kindergartens possibly within the next few days. Deputy group leader Gergely Arató argued that school closures in the early phases of an epidemic could considerably slow down the spread of the virus. He added that even a longer break would not necessitate repeating the whole school year. He urged government measures to help parents work from home, as well as financial aid to parents forced to take days off work.

Arató said that suggestions that teachers should be sent on unpaid leave are “baseless”, adding that if a break is ordered by the government, teachers are entitled to their salaries.

Arató also called for arrangements to ensure that poor children continue receiving free meals each day.

Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI

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