Hungary forbids whole classes, schools to switch to distance learning above 6th grade

Hungary’s Ministry of Human Capacities has virtually forbidden for certain classes or institutions switch to distance learning in grades where COVID-19 vaccines are available for students, local daily Népszava reported on Wednesday. The principal rule is that no measures affecting education may be taken above 6th grade even if one or more students or teachers get infected with coronavirus.
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National Teachers Chamber Chairman Péter Horváth has confirmed that no educational measures are permitted, while epidemiological steps are allowed if one or more students get infected. They can be assigned to home quarantine by the National Public Health Centre. The Ministry of Human Capacities did not reply to inquiries by the paper.

Classroom learning kicked off on 1 September in Hungary without any measure aimed at mitigating the risk of the spread of coronavirus, although the more contagious Delta variant has become dominant by the summer.

In Western Europe, and even in the neighbouring countries there are various measures in place to help prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools, e.g. testing and social distancing.

Apparently, the Hungarian government was not satisfied with having no anti-pandemic measures in place in schools at all, and it felt that it needed to go one step further.

Portfolio has learned that some of the educational institutions did implement and enforce epidemiological measures (recommended mask-wearing, restricting visits by parents, etc.), while others appear oblivious to the accelerating spread of the virus and/or just have fallen in line and adhere to current regulations. We have inquired at the ministry regarding this situation but have received no response.

Népszava reports that the action plan received by the schools stipulates that students, teachers or other members of school staff that have gained protection against SARS-CoV-2 over the past six months either via inoculation or infection do not constitute as contact persons even when their immediate family member get infected by coronavirus therefore quarantine rules do not apply to them either.

The Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSz) has been contacted by various persons because of this. One teacher reported that their female colleague goes to work while her husband has been diagnosed with coronavirus infection. PDSz Board member Erzsébet Nagy has told Portfolio that she has contacted the National Public Health Centre (NNK) where she was told that this is indeed the current procedure but could not present the relevant guidance based on which this regulation was adopted. The NNK did not reply to questions.

Nagy says this decision is completely incomprehensible, as the government should tighten rather than ease anti-pandemic measures. She pointed out that although the cabinet bet everything on vaccinations, this is no way to guarantee the safety of schools, as no COVID-19 vaccines are administered to those under 12 years of age and the Delta variant spreads even among those have been fully vaccinated. She also said it was a particularly cynical move by the government to cite the availability of vaccines, placing the responsibility on the students and the parents.

As of 9 September, 225,000 to 235,000 adolescents in the 12-17 age group received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than 590,000 children aged 12-17 in Hungary, which means that 38 to 40% of these students received at least one jab, while 60 to 62% of them are not vaccinated.

Cover photo: Getty Images

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