Principal of the Tallinn Art School: Instructions came too late

Principal of the Tallinn Art School Märt Sults.

PHOTO: Madis Veltman

Heads of schools were making preparations long before the Ministry of Education and Research finished its instructions a mere week before the start of the school year, Principal of the Tallinn Art School Märt Sults told the “Otse Postimehest” webcast.

How will Tallinn Art School hold its start of the academic year ceremony?

The ceremony will follow strict rules laid down by the Health Board. As it tends to be in Estonia, the responsibility has been shifted onto the shoulders of principals. Because our school has three floors and we expect around 100 people to attend the ceremony, we will be scattering activities and people over three floors.

How many changes have you been forced to make because of the coronavirus threat?

Any complicated apparatus is only as successfully as its operator. If the operator panics and does not know which button to press, in other words, if decisions change every two or three days and there are no plans B, C and D, things are not looking good. Luckily, we have principals who can also foresee plans Y and W and save the day.

Had heads of schools simply sat around waiting for instructions from the ministry and the Health Board that finally arrived last week, the situation would be disastrous today! People would have been running around in a state of panic.

Heads of Estonian schools know exactly what to do and have a plan in place. While guidelines from the Health Board are welcome, schools are in charge of making sure people stay healthy.

While it is said that a school is not a community center, it actually is. The worst-case scenario manifesting at a school would shut down the entire community. If it is said regarding hobby schools that they are secondary and not that crucial, my school has students from all over Tallinn and Harju County. Should a worst-case scenario manifest in my school, it would shut down the capital.

Personal protection gear for schools is the responsibility of Tallinn and there are no problems with it at the moment?

We do not have a problem when it comes to personal protective equipment. We have stockpiles for ten days and new procurements are in the pipeline. We will maintain supplies to last us five to ten days. People who take public transport home will be given masks, while teachers have access to visors. The school is ready and corresponding expenses have been made.

Will the children be obligated to disinfect their hands every morning?

Washing one’s hands, changing clothes and footwear and not sneezing in other people’s faces was a part of civilized behavior no more than 100 years ago. Things have changed.

One can disinfect one’s hands all day long, while nothing can replace good old soap and running water. Disinfectant needs to be available to make oneself safe to others. People need to monitor themselves.

In other words, teachers will not be monitoring disinfection efforts?

We can issue all kinds of regulations, but they are pointless if we can’t effectively monitor compliance. How would you check something like that? By standing on the door and spraying everyone’s hands with disinfectant? Or by scanning for runny noses in the morning? How should a teacher know whether a student is coming down with something?

The city has promised to equip schools with thermometers. Do you already have one?

Things are upside down here. Hobby schools are not considered high-risk locations, while municipal and state schools are. At the same time, hobby schools have students from all over the city or county. An incident there would lock down the entire city.

While thermal cameras are a hoot, the question is who will monitor them? Who will tackle students running hot? Face recognition cameras are not allowed, even though we have the technology. Who would be responsible for this without face recognition software to help them? The school’s medical worker or head teacher? Who can give up 80 percent of their working time to keep an eye on thermal cameras? There are no answers to these questions today.

The Tallinn Art School will not be getting a thermal camera I take it?

No, no cameras for hobby schools.

Have you been approached by teachers who say they are afraid to come in because of the coronavirus? Have people said it in so many words?

I believe everyone has said it one way or another. Not just my teachers, but everyone working on the front lines. But people have an inner compass that is stronger than fear.

You have not received any direct complaints?

I cannot say that. People have turned to me. I believe I can say with a good amount of certainty that there is not a single principal who has not been asked for the opportunity to work from home. The school’s technical staff has that option.

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