Concerns Grow as More Students Return to School

      May 25, 2020 13:03

      The Education Ministry on Sunday announced a student dispersion plan for schools in case of an emergency as most kids return to school this week. Schoolkids will be marshalled so that fewer of them are crowded into classrooms amid fears of coronavirus infection.

      Kindergarteners, elementary schoolchildren in first and second grades, middle schoolchildren in ninth grade, and high school students in 11th grade go back to school on Wednesday.

      Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae urged schools in areas where there are fears about community infections to keep the number of students at school at any one time to fewer than two-thirds of the total.

      The ministry earlier asked schools to spread their students out over different classrooms or even teach them alternately one week online, one week off. The ministry cited the Seoul metropolitan area, Daegu, and Gumi in North Gyeongsang Province as high risk regions.

      Some 420,000 high school seniors already returned to school last Wednesday, and this week some 2.37 million children and youngsters follow. 

      Students enter a school in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province on May 20. /Newsis

      Concerns are growing, with parents of kindergarteners and elementary schoolchildren, who have difficulties adjusting to wearing masks and social distancing, call for further postponements.

      "We'll discuss with health authorities detailed guidelines on wearing masks at school considering that temperatures are rising," a ministry official said. Under earlier guidelines, schools can turn on air conditioners as long as more than one-third of windows are open.

      According to a poll of parents by education firm Yoons English School, 71.6 percent said they will plead private learning activities to keep their kids out of school for the permissible number of days. Among parents of children in lower elementary school grades, 38.3 percent said they will allow their kids to return to school only a week later once they see what is going on. Some 28.9 percent said they will keep their kids out of school as long as possible.

      A 38-year-old mother of a first grader said, "The school has told us that my kid can attend school at least once a week, but I still feel uneasy."

      Under the ministry guidelines, elementary schoolchildren are allowed home-schooling. In Seoul that means up to 34 days without losing points for attendance, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

      Teachers have also expressed concerns. A 32-year-old elementary school teacher in Seoul said, "It's not easy for young kids to keep wearing masks, which even adults find uncomfortable, during breaks and before and after school."

      "Chances of infection grow significantly the moment kids come to school, however hard we may try," the teacher added. 

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