Schools to open for everyone

Jekaterina Minkova
Madis Somelar.
Madis Somelar. Photo: Madis Veltman

Less than a month separates us from the start of the school year. Teachers’ associations on Thursday urged students and parents to vaccinate themselves against the coronavirus to make sure the academic year succeeds.

People 12 and over can get vaccinated for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 in Estonia. Data from the Ministry of Social Affairs suggests around 32 percent of people 12-17 years of age have received at least one vaccine shot, with the immunization cycles of 11 percent completed. People who get their first shot now still have enough time to be fully vaccinated in September.

Vaccination not mandatory

Schools have discussed whether unvaccinated youths should be allowed to attend classes in the first place. Teachers’ spokesperson, Tallinn Secondary Science School history and social education teacher and coordinator of the school subjects’ associations network Madis Somelar said that the last 18 months have showed that contact study remains the best option for hitting educational targets and avoiding gaps in knowledge. “If the decision is down to parents’ preference, placing one’s child at a disadvantage is not sensible,” he said.

The Ministry of Education and Research told Postimees that vaccination is not mandatory and that children who are unvaccinated can attend school like everyone else. “Several schools have already set a good example and held vaccination drives in cooperation with healthcare service providers, the ministry’s spokesperson Liisa Tagel said.

The city of Tartu is planning to meet with heads of schools and discuss the possibility of rapid testing for unvaccinated students. “Concrete guidelines for remote learning will be agreed on between schools and the ministry,” said Kadi Toom, the city’s general education specialist.

Some youths remain opposed to the idea of vaccination. “Students seemed to be under the impression that not getting vaccinated would allow them to remain on remote learning and that it is more convenient in a way. Because study results would not be verified in controlled surroundings – that they could pass the curriculum seemingly,” Somelar said, adding that parents need to be involved as much as possible.

Somelar also said that using children’s communication channels to raise awareness could backfire and turn into a scandal. “There are those who are against vaccination. And very forceful efforts to get messages to 12-17-year-olds will prompt accusations of brainwashing children that could lead to even greater dissatisfaction,” Somelar opined. He said that the best solution is a knowledge-based approach backed up by personal example.

Eye-opening examples

“I had a student whose father was put on assisted breathing, one of my students was taken to the hospital with COVID-19. Another lost their grandfather to the coronavirus. Once you table these facts, students tend to think long and hard about the possibility that they might just be carrying the virus,” Somelar said.

The government decided on Thursday that schools need to stay open. “We will do everything we can to maintain contact study,” Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna (Reform) said. People who are not vaccinated but have had close contact with a carrier will be tested and will be able to attend school upon testing negative. “We will no longer be sending all close contacts home,” the minister said. “But people who are showing symptoms will definitely have to stay in.”