The first of Germany’s schools have reopened today in the north eastern state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern, with all eyes on the region where the return of 150,000 pupils and 13,000 teachers is being seen as a test-run for the rest of the country, writes Kate Connolly, the Guardian’s Berlin correspondent.
One of the most sparsely populated areas in Germany, which has had strict coronavirus rules and has been far-less affected by the pandemic than elsewhere in the west and the south, MeckPomm, as it is popularly referred to, has taken a no nonsense approach amid a great deal of tension as to whether due to rising infection rates, Germany might have to revert back to drastic shutdown measures.
School groups will be contained, lesson times will be staggered and break times will be held only in strictly demarcated areas. Primary school pupils will initially receive just four hours teaching a day, pupils at secondary schools just five hours. Bettina Martin, the education minister who has been criticised by some for not being ambitious enough, has countered critics by saying: “better a careful start than a hasty one”, and insisting “it’s high time to put the interests of the children to the fore”.
One school, in Neustrelitz, is even offering voluntary coronavirus tests for all its pupils and staff, who are advised to take their throat swabs themselves looking into a mirror. “You do have to fight against the urge to vomit,” the headteacher, Henry Tesch, told Die Zeit. Test results come back within two days, he said.
A pupil heads into the Christophorusschule school in Rostock, as school resumed after the summer break in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
Some would like the school to be model which the rest of the country would follow. The federal health minister, Jens Spahn, who this week will introduce obligatory coronavirus tests for people returning from 130 countries considered high risk due to their infection rates, has called on more regular tests to be made available for teachers and educators. The capacity, he has said, is sufficient.
But Germany’s teaching association has warned of a “huge confusion” as schools prepare to reopen, with a lack of clarity over preparations in case of the need to close schools once again.
Each state is taking a different approach. Hamburg will return on 6 August and has said anyone who is returning from an area considered high risk, such as Israel, Turkey, the US or Egypt, will either have to produce a negative test or go into quarantine for two weeks. If it can be proven that someone has deliberately travelled to a risk area and has to stay at home as a result, it will be considered to be bunking off and their family could be fined accordingly.
Berlin’s schools return on 10 August, with teachers and parents asking why there is not a better offering for online teaching in the case of teachers – around 26% nationwide – who are considered high risk and therefore must work from home.
Germany’s federal education minister, Anja Karlizcek, has spoken out in favour of a general face covering rule inside school buildings, and on school playgrounds, but has no authority to issue a nationwide decree.
In Berlin a decision on who should wear face masks and where, is still outstanding.
North Rhein Westaphalia, Germany’s most populous state, which returns on August 12, announced on Monday that face coverings will be obligatory in all its secondary and vocational schools, including during lessons. Primary schools are exempt as long as pupils remain on their seats during teaching.
Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have said masks will be obligatory inside their school buildings, while in Hesse and Saxony, schools are being allowed to make their own face mask regulations.