“We can’t see that it’s possible to reopen the schools and day care centers in a safe manner that first week after Easter,” Inga Marte Thorkildsen of the Socialist Left party (SV), who’s in charge of education in Oslo, confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday.
Thorkildsen had earlier told newspaper Aftenposten that the city intended to keep schools shut, adding that city officials also based the decision on “practical” considerations. “This demands predictability for all involved.”
Marte Gerhardsen, who comes from a Labour Party family and recently secured the job as top administrator of Oslo’s schools, has also warned against opening the schools too early. “Many parents would feel it’s not safe, and won’t send their children to school,” she told NRK. She fears it could lead to “a chaotic situation” in which only half a class attends school while the rest stay home.
“It would be very demanding if teachers need to both conduct classes at school and follow up all the children who are kept at home,” Gerhardsen said.
Others question such logic, claiming that if the schools are open, parents must send their children as the law requires. Still others have been advocating reopening of the schools, because many children from troubled homes are believed to be better off at day care and in school.
A long list of experts including the education director in Trondheim, Camilla Trud Nereid, have argued that the consequences of closing schools are simply too high. Medical personnel and child advocacy groups have also warned that vulnerable children lose valuable sources of support if kept away from their day care- or school supervisors. Others note that the Corona virus seems to pose a much greater danger to adults and the elderly than children, especially young children.
Some school districts around Norway have proposed half-way solutions, with Kristiansand wanting to reopen all day care centers (barnehager) and schools up to the fourth grade. That would also allow parents to more easily get back to work. In neighbouring Sweden, schools have remained open all along.
Municipalities free to choose
Local officials have the last word on whether schools can open or close. Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party closed local schools before the state ordered all to be shut down around the county from March 12. Since Oslo actually owns its schools, it can also keep them closed if the government otherwise allows schools to reopen after Easter.
“Oslo is the epicenter for the virus,” said Johansen, who also has threatened city-wide curfews if the infection rate does not slow down. “The government can offer advice, but it’s the local government’s responsibility to follow laws regarding protection against infection.”
He hopes, as do many others, that the state government will soon advise local communities to act as they see fit. New government plans for limiting the spread of the Corona virus are due before the Easter holidays begin on Thursday.