Schools across Germany reopen after months of closure due to COVID-19
Natalie Carney

The majority of German states have reopened their schools after two months of closures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Daycare centers, kindergartens, primary schools to grade 4 and graduating classes are back, albeit on alternating days to limit the number of people together at one time.

The Realschule Weissenhorn in Bavaria is used to seeing 650 students from grades 5 to 10 daily. On Monday, only half of the graduating grade 10 class was back.

One of them, 16-year-old Luisa is relieved to return. "I am glad that I am back at school because I really missed it. Just to have a routine," she said.



Since January, students across Germany have been attending classes digitally from home, making it difficult for many says Luisa. 

"It's different sitting in a class from learning everything online. I think it's really important that we're all back in class, in contact with the teachers and just being there in person again."

"It's a very exciting feeling, somehow quite euphoric," admits fellow classmate Katarinia. "It was more complicated [working from home] than when you are back here at school and can communicate with teachers."

The principal of Realschule Weissenhorn, Christa Megow, said the staff are prepared for the students' return. "We had the experience from the first lockdown and in this respect we had already worked out plans for ourselves," she told CGTN. "Distance, masks and ventilate. Then there are partitions and disinfectant."

Teachers will also be tested for the coronavirus and tests will also be available for students who wish to take them.

Yet German officials remain cautious.

COVID-19 case numbers have begun to rise again across the country, a trend blamed on the spread of variants initially discovered in the UK and South Africa.

One of Germany's top virologists has also warned against reopening schools too early, citing several studies that show schoolchildren pose the same risk of infection as adults.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soder said his state government wants to proceed "very sensitively," warning the public that a sudden spike in cases could lead to a third closure of schools.

The decision to reopen was left for the individual federal states despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hope to persuade them not to reopen until March 1.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said there is a need for balance between protecting the population and giving children some kind of "normal daily life." 

He said a year of off-and-on lockdowns has been tiring, adding: "A child who is 10 years old has now spent a 10th of his life in the pandemic. The virus isn't making it easy for us."

Deputy Principal at Realschule Weissenhorn, German Rapp, said reopening is important for the students' psychology. "They absolutely need to interact with other students with their friends," he noted. "These things have not happened for several weeks now. This exchange, even if it's only for school, is important."

"It is clear to everyone that distance teaching cannot replace face-to-face teaching," admitted Principal Megow. "That is why our wish and our hope is that we can bring more and more students back to school. In classroom teaching."

In a further attempt to keep children in school and protected, Merkel and the heads of the federal states are pushing the ministry of health to allow teachers and educators to be vaccinated sooner.

Currently, employees of schools and daycare centers are in vaccination priority group three, meaning they are unlikely to get the jab before the summer."

Grade 10 teacher Christian Jedon, told CGTN that being vaccinated would make him feel more comfortable about being back in the classroom. "The feelings are split," he said. "On the one hand, you still have the danger of infection in your head. On the other hand, it is of course nice to see the students and colleagues again. And just to be able to teach again."

Jessica Gans, also a teacher at Realschule Weissenhorn, believes being vaccinated is very important. "We are here with the students and it is really important that we are healthy and of course our students are healthy so we can stay here in school, in the classes," she said.

Germany's hard lockdown is set to be lifted on March 7, but could be extended if numbers continue to rise.

Merkel and the heads of the federal states are scheduled to meet on March 3 to discuss the next steps towards lifting the lockdown.

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