Concerns growing over schools reopening amid Delta variant spread

Concerns growing over schools reopening amid Delta variant spread

High school seniors in Seoul head to school after summer vacation, Aug. 10. Yonhap

Education ministry optimistic about face-to-face classes

By Bahk Eun-ji

Concerns are being raised over the education ministry’s move to allow schools to run in-person classes even under the Level 4 social distancing measures, while the number of daily new COVID-19 cases here is still hovering around 2,000.

After the ministry announced its plan early last week for the upcoming fall semester, a number of petitions have been posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website calling for a review of the plan.

“I agree with the government’s move to bring more children back to classrooms, but I don’t think it’s the right time to implement the policy, as the fast-spreading Delta variant has been producing increasingly more cases,” said a petitioner, who identified herself as a mother of two children attending kindergarten and elementary school.

“In a situation where children can’t get vaccinated, parents and students should have a choice whether they will go to school.”

Under the new rules in school, between half and two-thirds of the total students ― depending on their grade ― are allowed to take part in the in-person classes. Kindergarteners and first and second graders of elementary schools, who especially need face-to-face interaction, will be attending in-person classes even while the social distancing measures are at the most stringent level, in order to reduce the learning gap.

However, the virus situation here has worsened since the ministry’s announcement.

The daily new cases have surged to around 2,000 and the vaccination plan for elementary and middle school teachers and staff has been delayed by two weeks due to the supply shortage of Moderna vaccines.

As a result, teachers working at kindergartens and elementary and middle schools are scheduled to receive their second vaccine doses ahead of the beginning of the fall semester, but some of them will receive the shots after starting the semester.

In addition, the number of virus cases detected in kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school students in the past week stood at 880, up 70 from the previous week, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), sparking further concerns that schools are no longer a safe zone.

However, the education ministry will maintain its plan to expand the in-person classes in order to bridge the learning gap due to the protracted pandemic.

“We are aware of some parents’ worries about virus transmission in classrooms, but we should be more cautious over giving them the choice of sending their children to school,” a ministry official said.

When asked if the plan will be changed because of the delayed vaccination plan, another ministry official said most teachers booked their vaccines in the early stage of the plan, so the reservation rate for Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 is about 74 percent.

“We expect that most teachers will get the second dose before the opening of the fall semester,” the official said.

However, if the current increasing virus trend does not show signs of abating, dissent with the ministry’s policy is expected to intensify further.

“If there are many infections in the community … eventually the virus will spread to schools through the children,” said Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.

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