Spring semester virus guidelines puzzle parents, teachers
With less than a week until the start of the spring semester, school principals will decide whether kids come back to the classroom — leaving parents and teachers perplexed and agitated.
The confusion was by an Education Ministry announcement Monday that designated the first two weeks of March — from March 2 through 11 — as an adaptation period for the new semester. It is allowing schools to decide whether to teach in person or online depending on the local virus situation.
Each school principal will decide whether to shift fully to online classes if the school meets criteria set by the ministry and the local education office.
The criteria will allow schools to operate classes fully online if the number of students infected in a school accounts for more than three percent of the total, or if more than 15 percent of students cannot attend in-person classes due to infection or quarantine. For the Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education, the percentages were set higher to five percent of infected students among the total, or 20 percent of students who are not allowed at school.
In an announcement made on Feb. 7 on the plan for the new semester, the Education Ministry insisted on a "full return to school" principle and called on schools to be "prudent" about demanding online classes. But with the country’s pandemic worsening, it eventually took a step back.
Since the more transmissible Omicron variant became dominant, the country’s daily virus cases have jumped to over 100,000.
On Tuesday, the country reported 99,573 new infections — just an inch away from the 100,000 mark — and raising the total caseload to 2,157,734.
Minors between the ages of 10 and 19 accounted for the highest infection rate per 100,000 people with 6,413, according to the latest Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data. That figure was followed by people under 10 with 6,387. They were the only age groups that exceeded over 6,000 infections per 100,000 among the total.
“The surge in the number of infected children and adolescents under the age of 18 [in the third week of February] has doubled compared to the previous week,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, the commissioner of the KDCA, said in a briefing on Monday.
“The daily average infection rate for children under the age of 11, who are not eligible for vaccination, is particularly high,” Jeong added.
The surge in children and adolescents seems to be due to transmissions among family members. With schools reopening, infections are likely to spread at school sites and then in homes, causing a spiral.
To make things worse, health officials gave a forecast on Monday that the country might report up to 270,000 daily infections around mid-March.
“We earlier asked schools to be prudent about shifting to remote classes, but there was a prediction that the Omicron wave will peak in early or mid-March,” an official from the Education Ministry said.
Parents expressed frustration with the education ministry’s changing guidelines.
“It’s not the first time [their measures] were a mess, and it’s no longer surprising,” groused Ms. Yoon, a mother of a 17-year-old high-schooler.
“The government should have come up with a preventive measure before,” she said. “Now it’s time to let students attend school after self-testing.”
"The announcement made at a time when fewer than 10 days are left before the start of the semester only creates anxiety," said the Seoul Parents Association, adding, "they make no effort to understand and communicate with each family with children."
The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations urged the government to “inform clear standards, and not leave things to the schools by saying it's ‘voluntary.’”
In addition to the announcement on classes, the Education Ministry started distributing free home testing kits to schools as part of preventive measure, starting with kindergartens in Seoul.
The ministry strongly advised all kindergaten to high school students and faculty members to take Covid-19 tests at least twice a week with the home test kits.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]