Most pupils attending school post-lockdown 

A teacher talks to half of his pupils in a classroom at a primary school, in Lully near Geneva, on the first day of school on Monday Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Only a small number of children have been kept at home by their parents after compulsory schools re-opened in Switzerland this week, education officials have said. 

This content was published on May 15, 2020 - 14:20

The re-opening of schools for pupils up to the age of 16 on Monday came after eight weeks of pupils being at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, some parents had expressed uncertainty at the move, citing fears that it was too early or concerns about the unclear role of children in the spread of Covid-19. Some had threatened to keep their children away from school. 

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Speaking after the first week of school on Friday, the Swiss Teachers’ Federation (LCH), its French-speaking counterpart SER and the Association of Head Teachers all said that members had reported very few absences overall.  

Parents who keep their children at home should not be punished, said Dagmar Rösler, the LCH president, referring to some cantons fining for absences. Their fears and concerns should be taken seriously, she added. 

Handwashing, no masks 

A lot was being done by schools to win parents’ trust, added Rösler. This included daily cleaning of surfaces, door handles and school areas. In many schools, no adults apart from staff and cleaners, were allowed on the premises. 

Schools are subject to national safety requirements drawn up by the Federal Office of Public Health, designed to protect pupils and teachers. This also includes an emphasis on handwashing, but no wearing of face masks. 

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SER president Samuel Rohrbach added that around 2-3% of teachers would continue to work at home as they were part of the official risk groups. 

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Cantonal mix 

Not all pupils went back under the same conditions, as the cantons (who are in charge of educational matters in Switzerland) have taken different approaches.   

While the majority of German-speaking cantons opted for a full re-opening, the French-speaking Switzerland, as well as the German-speaking cantons of Zurich and St Gallen have taken a step-by-step approach. Here, classes have been divided into two, with alternating schedules, for up to four weeks, before full classes resume.  

Thomas Minder, who leads the Head Teachers’ Association, said that full classes were working well, but the younger the children, the harder it was to apply distance rules (two metres from the teacher, but no rules for children among themselves).  This was proving to be a problem in half classes as well, he said.  

For his part, Gregory Durand, head of the Vaud Teachers’ Association, said that the splitting of classes had served to calm fears among teachers over school re-openings. 

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