Amid an increase in community transmission of the new coronavirus, more cases are being seen in which schoolchildren and teachers are testing positive for the virus or have had close contact with those who have been infected.
How should schools cope with the situation when pupils get infected? How should they decide whether to close the school and how should they care for their students?
A principal of an elementary school in the Chubu region detailed the time when one pupil got infected with the coronavirus in July.
“Taking measures to prevent the spread of infection was a matter of course, but our top priority was to provide emotional care to the children,” the principal stressed.
While the local public health center told the school that the infection risk decreases after around 72 hours, the school decided to close down for roughly two weeks after consulting with local authorities and the education board.
All the school’s staff and children who had contact with the infected boy were tested for the virus and were relieved to hear in a couple of days that all of them tested negative, the principal said.
In an effort to respond to the concerns of children and their parents, the school sent emails to parents during its shutdown, explaining the situation and infection prevention measures the school would take when it reopened.
“We were worried that there might be pupils who would be scared or reluctant to go to school” when classes resumed, the principal said.
The school counselor, who usually visits the school once or twice a month, was asked to come to school every day, and told the children to consult with them any time if they had any problems or worries.
At the same time, class teachers told the children that they should never bully or discriminate against others in regards to COVID-19.
Aside from the nationwide school closures that started in March, the school was the first among elementary, junior or senior high schools in its prefecture to close down because a student was infected.
“What a school can do is more or less clear,” the principal said. Even before the case of infection was confirmed, the school had been taking measures to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.
Classrooms were constantly ventilated and everyone was asked to wear face masks when necessary. If an adjacent classroom was empty, a class would be divided into two groups to study in two classrooms.
But there was an issue with the health check cards that the school had asked the children to carry with them.
Parents checked their children’s temperatures and health condition every day and wrote them down on the card, and teachers checked these every morning before children entered the classrooms.
But since the card had spaces to fill in the information for a month, children took it home every day, so when the boy was found to be infected, the school did not have the pupils’ cards to confirm immediately when the boy started feeling ill or whether other students had a fever.
Following the incident, the school changed the form of the cards so that children submit a one-day card to teachers every day, which will be double checked by the class teacher and a school nurse.
The case in July did not lead to a spread of infection at the school, but the principal said it will continue taking as much care as possible so that children can feel at ease when they come to school.
After the nationwide school closures, many schools resumed classes in June and the situation of closures since that time has differed depending on individual schools and regions.
Between June 1 and July 21, a total of 84 elementary, junior or senior high schools nationwide were closed temporarily, many of them for up to three days, according to the education ministry.
Schools in the Chubu region responded differently to cases of infections.
A municipal-run junior high school in Nagoya was shut down between June 18 and 26 after one of the students was confirmed on June 17 to be infected.
“We considered closing only her class, but decided to be careful enough to close the whole school,” said an official of the Nagoya Municipal Government.
The town of Hino, Shiga Prefecture, found out in the morning of July 30 that one of the students at its elementary school was highly likely to have had close contact with a COVID-19 patient and closed the school for the afternoon of July 30 and the following day.
In the evening of July 30, the child was found not to have had close contact with someone who tested positive. “We made the decision in consideration for the concerns of the child’s family,” said an official of the Hino Municipal Government.
Meanwhile, an elementary school in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, continued to hold classes even after a female student was found on July 28 to be infected.
The school decided not to close down because the pupil had not attended school for five days before she developed symptoms due to the four-day holidays and there was no one at the school who felt ill or had close contact with her.
This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 20.
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