Swiss cantons move forward on obligatory masks at schools

Canton Lucerne looks set to be the first Swiss region to ask older pupils to wear hygiene masks at school after the summer holidays to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Keystone / Urs Flueeler

Older pupils in the central Swiss canton of Lucerne look set to be the first to wear hygiene masks at school after the summer holidays to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Jura and other cantons may follow suit.

This content was published on July 14, 2020 - 10:11
Isobel Leybold-Johnson, Keystone-SDA/SRF

In Switzerland cantons are in charge of educational matters and can decide which measures to take for the beginning of the autumn term.

“To protect the health of pupils and staff in Baccalaureate schools and vocational schools in the most efficient way possible – while at the same time having full-time face-to-face teaching – there should be a general obligation to wear masks, also during breaks and in the corridors,” canton Lucerne education department spokeswoman Regula Huber told swissinfo.ch by email on Tuesday, confirming a report that had appeared on Swiss public television, SRF.

“There will not be compulsory mask wearing in settings in which the distance rule of 1.5 metres can be maintained (big rooms, small groups, sports lessons).”

The education and culture department will make a definitive choice about how schools should start the new term in August, she added. “As long as there is no change to the corona situation, there should basically be compulsory mask wearing,” she wrote.

Nationwide closures due to Covid

The move comes because the canton wants to go back to face-to-face teaching for older pupils after the nationwide school closures due to Covid-19 earlier this year – in Baccalaureate schools and vocational schools they are all over 15-16 years old. Primary schools had gone back to class teaching before the holidays, as elsewhere in Switzerland, as primary pupils (under-12s) are not considered primary transmitters of the coronavirus by the Swiss authorities.

On March 13, the Swiss government took the unprecedented move of ordering the nationwide closure of all schools. Compulsory schools (kindergartens, primary schools and lower secondary schools for pupils aged 12-15) re-opened on May 11 (some cantons re-opened fully, some had staggered schedules at first, in another example of cantons deciding their own measures).

Higher education establishments, as well as upper secondary and vocational schools followed on June 8, although in practice many of these schools continued with distance learning until the summer holidays, also because they were only allowed to teach smaller groups of pupils.

According to SRF, canton Jura in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is also considering compulsory mask wearing for older pupils, but no official decision has yet been made. SRF said that according to its research, ten further cantons were discussing masks for certain schools.

The cantonal conference of educational directors (EDK) - which represents the cantons in education matters – said that there was no obligation to wear marks in Swiss schools and it was up to the cantons to decide on which measures they take. There is no recommendation on masks planned from the EDK, spokesman Alexander Gerlings told the Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA.

Fribourg University

The University of Fribourg also plans to impose a compulsory face mask rule from the start of the autumn semester, SRF reports. In principle, every second seat in lecture halls and seminar rooms should remain free, as well as the front row of seats in order to protect the lecturers.

If a minimum distance cannot be maintained, masks will become compulsory in lecture halls and seminar rooms. The rule will come into force on August 1.

According to Radio Fr, Fribourg will become the first Swiss university to introduce such a rule on hygiene masks. The decision follows guidelines drawn up by the University Rectors' Conference.

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