Despite Corona, the first schools reopen: lessons with mouthguards and soap

Black and yellow pushed through the rapid opening of schools in North Rhine-Westphalia – despite massive protests.

A student wearing a face mask during an exam.

The new normal in schools Photo: Jonas Güttler / dpa

BOCHUM taz | Christiane Künhaupt, Vice Headmistress of the Elly-Heuss-Knapp vocational college in Düsseldorf, has had four days of stress and fear behind her. “I slept badly,” says the 52-year-old on the first day of the careful school openings in North Rhine-Westphalia. The college has 3,000 pupils, which offers 42 courses up to the Abitur. Around 500 were loaded on Thursday, for which exams are due in a few weeks. “75 to 80 percent of them are there,” Künhaupt estimates on Thursday morning – I would have expected less. “

Many young people have the same concerns as the deputy headmistress: How big is the risk of infection if school starts again after six and a half weeks of corona isolation and distance learning? Can distance rules be observed and infections avoided? “There was a lot of fear, especially in front of the subway,” says Künhaupt.

The vocational college has therefore made provisions. The college of teachers has decided to enter the school only with a mask. “We also train tailors, so we have a lot of sewing machines,” explains Katja Frech, teacher of German and design. The pupils sewed 360 masks for self-protection.

The college is thus suddenly a pioneer: On Wednesday, North Rhine-Westphalia’s black and yellow state government, under pressure from the public and virologists, announced a mask requirement, which should also apply to public buildings from next Monday. “In the late Wednesday afternoon, we suddenly received 2,000 masks,” says Vice-Head of School Künhaupt. On Tuesday, on the other hand, she assessed the situation as “catastrophic” – even soap dispensers and towel racks, a prerequisite for the hygiene rules advised by FDP state minister Yvonne Gebauer, were still missing.

Quickly return to normal

Gebauer and CDU Prime Minister Armin Laschet put the schools under massive time pressure. Laschet wants to get back to “responsible normality” as quickly as possible in the fight for the chancellor’s candidacy. And Gebauer follows her federal party leader Christian Lindner, who is drumming for a quick end to the corona restrictions. Neither of them wanted to know about the appointment of the country heads with Chancellor Angela Merkel to open the schools again on May 4th. Gebauer announced on Saturday evening via email that it would start again on Thursday.

Violent criticism came from the city day. The school authorities would need at least one week for corona protection standards, rumbled the CDU chairman of the NRW City Day, Thomas Hunsteger-Petermann.

But teacher associations and the opposition are also skeptical. There are calls for school boycott on the Internet. “Anger and frustration” prevail in schools due to the lack of health protection, says Maike Finnern, chairwoman of the GEW union. The SPD speaks of “poor preparation” – apparently not all schools are equipped with soap and disinfection.

Doubts remain

“We risk increasing numbers of infections,” warns Sigrid Beer, spokeswoman for the Greens’ school policy in the state parliament. Therefore, Beer demands that degrees should be awarded on the basis of the previous average grades – after all, many teachers were also at risk.

“25 percent of our teachers will be absent due to health reasons,” estimates Christiane Künhaupt. She was “super happy” that the first day of school went well: “Everyone was very disciplined.”

However, what a regular lesson should look like from May 4th, is in the stars: Then, instead of 350, 2,000 students appear again. And the classes would also have to be divided to meet the corona distance rules, Künhaupt calculates. “I don’t know if we can do the massive extra work,” says the vice headmistress.

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