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Berlin: Back to School in Times of Corona

In Berlin, one thing is certain: August 10th is coming closer, the first school day after the summer vacations. But will the new Corona rules serve their purpose?

Berlin, July 30th, 2020 (The Berlin Spectator) — In Germany, the beginning and end of the summer vacations depend on the federal state. If the entire country had the same vacation dates, the resulting traffic jam would be catastrophic. The first state to end this year’s big vacation is Mecklenburg-Hither Pomerania, where schools reopen this coming Monday. Hamburg is next, on Thursday.

School Presence

Kids in Brandenburg and Berlin, where the new school year commences on August 10th, 2020, have a few days more to prepare. While many of them might be eager to see their friends again and lead a normal school life after months of school closures triggered by Corona, parents are worried.

The city state of Berlin is relatively strict about presence at schools. While Baden-Württemberg, a federal state in southern Germany, says school children may stay at home if they take part in online classes, pupils in the German capital are required to go to school, meaning their physical presence is required. This includes 33,000 first-graders.

Masks at School

In Brandenburg, masks were not going to be mandatory at any schools, but at the last moment, just a few days before the vacations ended, the province’s Health Minister Britta Ernst said masks would be required for all students in the corridors, auditoriums, canteens and staircases. In classrooms and outdoors, on the schoolyard, the masks may be taken off.

While the mandatory mask rule does not apply to primary school kids in Baden-Württemberg, it reportedly does in Berlin. Education Senator Sandra Scheeres said in at least two interviews with German-language media, she had decided to go for a general compulsory mask rule for all. It does not apply in class or at after school centers, but masks will have to be worn during the breaks, in staircases and communal rooms.

There is still some time left. The Corona situation might improve, which seems unlikely right now, or deteriorate. Senate decisions, for instance about masks at primary schools or in the first few grades, might still be changed. In Berlin, primary school includes 5th and 6th grade. Kids in the other federal states move ahead to secondary schools after 4th grade.

First Day of School Ceremonies

Because of the Corona pandemic, back to school ceremonies in Berlin, on August 15th, will look very different this year. The first-graders, who always start school a week later than everyone else, will be celebrated in smaller groups. Only them, their parents and class teachers may take part. The usual distance rule everyone is used to does not apply to school kids in Berlin. It would be hard to enforce. But teachers and parents need to follow it.

Once it is back to school, Berlin’s kids, parents, teachers and headmasters will know how the theory translates into real life and whether kids who return from international trips just before they are supposed to return to school might have to be in quarantine.

More Issues

Just as if Corona and all the pandemic’s implications were not more than enough already, the Berlin Senate Administration for Education is dealing with even more problems. One of them has to do with the number of teachers available. Until August 10th, exactly 2,366 vacant teacher positions need to be filled. It is unclear whether those in charge managed to do so.

Renovations are the next issue. At as many as 243 Berlin schools, construction work is still going on right now. Will they be done on time? Everyone hopes so, but nobody really knows.

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