Debate about mask requirements and closure: New school year, old points of contention

The Education and Training Teachers’ Association (VBE) warns of renewed school closures in autumn. But there will not be a mask requirement for the time being.

A cloth mask and a pencil case lie on a school desk.  A child's hands are on the mask.

Currently, the federal states cannot decide on nationwide measures such as compulsory masks in schools Photo: Robert Miachael/dpa

BERLIN taz | Free at last. Since the beginning of this week, schoolchildren in Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland have been looking forward to the start of the holidays. When Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria also close the school year at the end of the week, the whole of Germany will be on summer vacation.

How it will continue after that, however, is – once again – unclear. Since the federal states abolished the obligation to wear masks and tests in schools months ago, there are no longer any nationwide measures to combat the corona pandemic. Whether the ministries because of the current summer wave impose stricter rulesthey only want to make a decision shortly before the start of the new school year.

Too late, criticizes the Education and Training Association (VBE). “It is with great concern that we note that even in the third year of the pandemic, politicians, against their better knowledge, have not yet managed to prepare the schools for the expected increase in the incidence of infections in autumn,” said VBE chairman Udo Beckmann to the editorial network Germany (RND).

Beckmann warned that schools are still not safe places to learn and could be affected by closures again in the coming school year if the number of infections rose again. In view of their scientifically recognized effect, the timely reintroduction of a mask requirement should not be a taboo subject.

Mask requirement? It does not work!

The problem: Currently, the federal states cannot decide on any nationwide pandemic measures such as the introduction of compulsory masks in schools, even if they wanted to. The Infection Protection Act passed by the Bundestag only allows the federal states to order a mask requirement indoors locally, i.e. for individual districts or independent cities. This is how the FDP pushed through in the traffic light coalition. The provisions of the Infection Protection Act expire on September 23.

According to Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), a new version could be decided by the Bundestag in the first week of meetings after the summer holidays at the beginning of September. A return to the nationwide mask requirement is likely based on the previous statements from the traffic light. Buschmann also recently described their effect as “undisputed”.

In any case, the new insight comes too late for the start of school. By the time the Bundestag can allow the states to wear masks again, 14 of the 16 federal states will have been teaching again for a long time. One of the few measures that the federal states have available for the start of school are mandatory rapid tests.

Several federal states have announced in the past few days that they want to ensure adequate tests in schools just in case. Hesse and Berlin, for example, announced that they would only offer the tests in the first few weeks of school on a voluntary basis.

NRW starts the school year

Many other countries have not yet decided on this point. In North Rhine-Westphalia, which will be the first state to return from the summer holidays on August 10th, the new school minister Dorothee Feller (CDU) wants to develop a concept for the new school year by the end of July. According to Feller, experts from the Ministry of Health are also involved.

Feller said of the impending wave in the new school year: “None of us know how autumn will be, and distance learning must be possible.” This option is also not currently available to the federal states across the board.

However, the forecasts of science are clear. According to a simulation of the infection process at the TU Berlin, the infections will increase after the summer holidays. Although the researchers assume a high level of immunization in Germany, they recalled that every infection carries the risk of a severe course.

degree of immunization

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