The designated chair of the Conference of Education Ministers, Schleswig-Holstein Education Minister Karin Brin (CDU), emphasized on Deutschlandfunk that schools should not be closed during the pandemic if possible. Brien also considers the extension of the Christmas holidays, as has already been announced in Brandenburg and Saxony, as a nationwide school closure. She emphasized that since the change in the law on protection against infection by the parties to traffic lights, there is no longer a legal basis for this. The situation is also different from last year before Christmas, when there were no vaccinations and no checks. In addition, the current learning deficit cannot be compensated for if students go on vacation early.
More on the topic of vaccination against corona
The full interview:
Jörg Mönchenberg: Ms Breen, there is no uniform situation in German schools in the Corona pandemic. However, the fundamental question: How do you assess the current situation?
Karen Brin: In fact, the incidence of infection in the federal states is completely different and of course the situation in schools is also different, because we now know that after more than a year and a half of the epidemic, the infection is in the community as a whole. Always precede it in schools. In general, however, I would say that schools deal with the situation very routinely and professionally. Schools give children and young people a stable structure, a framework within which they can weather the pandemic to some extent. In this regard, I have found that our school system works well in this case.
“Consider with interest the development of the omicron”
Mönchenberg: Now there is the new Corona variant Omikron, which raises a lot of questions. There are also studies that clearly show that children are especially at risk. How concerned are you as Minister of Education?
Brien: Of course, we all watch Omikron’s development very carefully. As for my state, I can say we don’t have a confirmed case yet. We have studies from South Africa saying something about the burden of disease on very young children, up to 1 year old and up to 5 years old. We simply don’t know yet what the effects will be on older children and young adults. Other than that, we know too little about Omikron to derive concrete measures from it now. But of course we are watching other developments every day.
Air filters do not replace ventilation.
Mönchenberg: Mrs. Brin, you said earlier that some kind of routine has been developed to deal with the pandemic in schools. On the other hand, there is still a lot of criticism that schools are still not adequately prepared, for example when it comes to air filters.
Brien: Yeah. It’s a thing only with air filters, as anyone who follows scientific events around it will realize. Air filters are by no means a substitute for ventilation, as some have repeatedly argued, but air filters can at best be a supplement, and this only makes sense for rooms that cannot be properly ventilated. This also results from the new S3 instructions. In this regard: Air filters are not the answer, but at best they can have a complementary effect where rooms cannot be ventilated.
There is no legal basis for extending the Christmas holiday
Mönchenberg: The question is how to proceed with the Corona pandemic. The numbers are still very high, also in terms of infections, and there are recommendations from experts, including Leopoldina, who said it makes perfect sense, for example, to extend the winter holidays. Brandenburg and Saxony have already decided to do so. You see it fairly critically. why?
Brien: In the end, extending the Christmas holiday is nothing more than a nationwide school closure. In my opinion, there is currently no legal basis for this at all. And the new Infection Protection Act, which is currently being discussed, does not open this legal basis at all. We have all decided together that it is critical that children and young people can attend school in person and that learning deficiencies and psychosocial consequences can be addressed. If we now go on vacation early, we cannot do that, which is why I will always be very careful about such actions. This year, we are in a very different situation than last year. We didn’t have a chance to get vaccinated before Christmas last year. We didn’t have a chance to test.
All this is different now. Most of our teachers are vaccinated. We test several times a week in schools and even young people, at least here in Schleswig-Holstein, are vaccinated more than 60 percent twice. In this regard, you cannot compare the situation to last year and that is why it is not an option for us in Schleswig-Holstein at least.
“It is important that teachers allow themselves to be reinforced”
Mönchenberg: The question still exists because you mentioned the tests: The Federal Student Conference, for example, calls for daily Corona tests in schools and the Association of Linguists says teachers should be better, and even better protected, for example through priority booster vaccination. How do you feel about these demands?
Brien: I find it extremely important for teachers to be reinforced very quickly. That’s why they should take advantage of the universal vaccination offers available in all federal states – I checked again this morning in light of our conversation: there are a number of vaccination offers open daily throughout the state and there is an opportunity to find familiarization with the corresponding platforms for vaccination offers. We have no shortage of vaccination offers in Schleswig-Holstein, so everyone should seize the opportunity now. Now to prioritize groups again, there are the medical workers for whom this is important, there are the teachers, day care workers, police officers, salespeople, and many others who all urgently need a boost. We have enough vaccine, we have enough appointments, and everyone should benefit from that.
Mönchenberg: Ms. Brin, a topic of interest to many in schools: the vaccination of children, which is due soon, although Stiko has not yet made the recommendation. But there are also concerns, for example if vaccination is carried out in schools – Berlin is planning this – that this will also lead to social pressure. This is the only point. The other point is that in the end, the vaccination status may decide whether or not children will get an education.
Brien: I do not think that the corresponding demand to make access to school and education dependent on vaccination status is justified, but access to school should be open to all children and youth. Regardless of this, it is correct not only to give vaccinations to schoolchildren from the age of twelve, but from the next week to younger children, between the ages of 5 and 11, who are easily accessible. However, the situation with the little ones is different than with the young ones, because in my opinion vaccinations cannot be carried out responsibly without parents. Parents should be part of the counseling session, and it is difficult to decide whether or not to get vaccinated compared to older children, especially since we still don’t have any recommendations from the standing committee on immunization here. But again: there must now be low-threshold vaccination offers for children and all parents who want it should first have the opportunity to get advice, namely from a pediatrician, and then have their children vaccinated.
Mönchenberg: They say there should be education for everyone, whether they are vaccinated or not. But on the contrary, the question arises: is it fair, for example, to send an entire class home because of four injuries when most children have already been vaccinated?
Brien: Oh, okay. We now have different rules for quarantine in schools. We send the whole group home not only because the child is sick, but, as a rule, it concerns only contact persons in the immediate vicinity of the child. Otherwise, learning groups remain in schools. I can tell you from Schleswig-Holstein that as of today we have three education groups in quarantine across the country. From this you can judge that the problem is not really practical with us. And again: in view of the fact that the question of whether vaccinations for young children are really necessary in consideration has not yet been answered, in my opinion such exclusion of children and young people from school due to lack of vaccination is beyond the scope of the question.
Mönchenberg: Mrs. Brin, we still have one point to address. In Germany, schools have been closed for a particularly long time in an international comparison. Learning deficits are sometimes significant, especially in socially disadvantaged families. At least that’s what most studies say. What is the situation there? Was it possible to catch up in the meantime? There was extra money. But there are certainly experts who say the gap is still huge.
Brien: The gap varies in size, and varies in federal states, because the extent of lessons canceled also varies widely there. But the difference also varies from school to school and from student to student. This is why it is so important for schools to have a very different view of it and to offer support when necessary. These support measures, designed in very different ways, started last year during the holidays, summer holidays and fall holidays, and we will continue to do so next year. With one or another of the students, the deficit has already been made up, and with others we will continue to deal with this, perhaps over several years. In this regard, the work is in progress and certainly not finished.
Statements made by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not take the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.