The fourth school year under pandemic conditions is just around the corner. In the first federal state, namely North Rhine-Westphalia, classes start again after the summer holidays - and with this worries about a new wave of infection and doubts about sufficient protective measures are returning to the classrooms.
How is it in the schools - after more than two and a half years of exhausting everyday Corona life in Germany?
In NRW, the mood at the start of school is mixed. When around 2.5 million schoolchildren start again next Wednesday, the federal states will lack "any binding and legal regulations" for protection against Corona, complains the President of the NRW Teachers' Association, Andreas Bartsch. He points to the waistband. Since the new Federal Infection Protection Act will not take effect until October 1st, the federal states have no choice but to work with "mere recommendations". Bartsch also demands more speed when it comes to vaccinating the student body.
Four new vaccines from September 9th
So far, 69.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds nationwide have received basic immunization - i.e. have usually received two doses of vaccine (as of August 6, 2022). Among the 5- to 11-year-olds, for whom the Stiko Vaccination Commission has only generally recommended the corona vaccination since May, it is just 20.1 percent. So there is still plenty of room for improvement.
After all, four new vaccines are to be approved from September 9th, which, unlike the previous ones, should also protect well against infection with the virus, i.e. not only against severe courses. Is that enough for a relaxed school year? In North Rhine-Westphalia and elsewhere, there is some uncertainty this year as well. The protection concept presented by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) a few days ago leaves the federal states a lot of discretion.
However, it categorically excludes school closures. Masks are only compulsory in class if face-to-face classes are about to be canceled - with simple surgical masks and only from class five. It is completely incomprehensible to us that primary schools "even in the event of imminent staff shortages and school closures are not allowed to be ordered to wear masks," criticizes the President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger. The risk of school closures is actually accepted. Argument of the Federal Ministry of Education against it: The permanent wearing of a mouth and nose protector could be "stressful", especially for children of primary school age. Finding the right balance remains a feat of strength even in the third year of the pandemic.
Considerable class failures feared
In the most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the school management association fears that there will be considerable class cancellations if teachers are infected in large numbers with Corona this autumn and winter. According to state chairwoman Antonietta Zeoli, only 70 to 80 percent of schoolchildren would wear masks voluntarily. The uncertainty as to the extent to which the pandemic will continue to weigh on the school system will probably remain for a long time.
Several organizations, including the Association for Education and Training (VBE), warn of a "patchwork" if the countries have different ideas about the implementation of corona protection measures this year. There must be uniform and clear criteria, and the federal states should agree on this, is the urgent appeal - which the Confederation of German Employers' Associations has also joined.
The current chairwoman of the Conference of Ministers of Education, Schleswig-Holstein's Minister of Education Karin Prien (CDU), calls for a national school summit to enable this vote. However, the federal states are still waiting for an invitation from Health Minister Lauterbach, she says.
The debate about air filters picks up speed again at the start of school. VBE federal boss Udo Beckmann sees great omissions in the federal states, the nationwide equipment with air filters is far from being achieved. This is also a complaint in NRW. Anke Staar from the State Parents' Conference criticizes that the call for airing cannot remain. Otherwise, the students are threatened with "freezing like last winter". Staar warns that the gas crisis could even exacerbate the problem, since the municipalities are under even greater financial pressure.
The homework list is long. After all, the Federal Minister of Education is confident that there can be a "normal" everyday school life in 2022/23. The students would have borne the brunt of the pandemic. "The next school year has to be normal, at least as normal as possible. I will fight for that," promises Bettina Stark-Watzinger. Not only in the school start state of North Rhine-Westphalia will they be taken at their word.