Masks will be a daily accessory for some of the 150,000 children returning to school in the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region, Germany's first state to reopen the school gates after the summer holidays.
Education ministers of Germany's 16 states had agreed that schools will reopen full-time after the summer break, after offering only partial hours in the weeks when the lockdown was eased.
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With infection numbers once again creeping up, fears are rising that the new school start could yet prove temporary.
But officials warn that children cannot afford to miss more school.
“The children need to be present in school because we have to prevent more lost time,” Steffen Kästner, headteacher of the CJD Jugenddorf-Christophorus school in Rostock, told AFP.
Strict rules have been drawn up to limit transmission of the new coronavirus, with cases across Germany rising above 500 per day in recent weeks.
Pupils in Rostock on Monday. Photo: DPA
Different age groups are being taught separately, so that if a pupil tests positive, only one class will have to go into quarantine and the rest of the school can remain open.
Masks must be worn in the corridors, classrooms regularly ventilated and pupils are required to wash their hands regularly and avoid hugging.
CJD has 1,350 students aged 9-18. Only two are missing, a decision by their parents, “who belong to a risk group,” said the headteacher, but all the teachers are present.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has so far been the German state least hit by the coronavirus, with only 20 deaths out of a total 9,148 in Germany since the beginning of the crisis.
Rules in other states
Hamburg will also open its doors to schoolchildren on Thursday, as well as Berlin, Brandenburg and North Rhine-Westphalia during the following week. Some of the islands in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein also welcomed pupils on Monday.
Some states such as Berlin, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have already announced that they will introduce compulsory face masks in school buildings.
However, pupils won’t be required to use the coverings in class. In other states, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, there is talk of voluntary masks, or – as is the case in Hesse or Saxony – mandatory mask wearing at the discretion of the schools.
Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek on Sunday spoke out in favour of compulsory masks in school buildings.
It is understandable “if the states want to eliminate social distancing rules in schools, because the spatial conditions would otherwise only allow for classes with limited attendance”, Karliczek told “Welt am Sonntag”.
“Nevertheless, in-person classes will only be able to function if further regulations on hygiene, the wearing of protective masks, as well as on keeping distance in the schoolyard and on the corridors are strictly adhered to.”