Schools were opening all over Norway on Monday, just as Corona infection rates have risen. Many parents won’t be allowed into the classroom with their first-graders this year, and concerns were rising over whether the schools will be able to stay open.
“There can be some schools and day care centers that will have to close for certain periods of time because of local virus outbreaks,” predicts Inga Marte Thorkildsen, the top politician in charge of schools in Oslo. Thorkildsen, of the Socialist Left party (SV), noted to newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend how not all schools have enough physical space to accommodate all their students if distancing requirements become stricter.
Infection levels in Oslo and several other cities in Norway are back up at the “yellow” level. If they go to “red,” local authorities may need to revert to home schooling again, and all schools are expected to be prepared.
“We have to avoid the biggest mistakes from last spring,” Thorkildsen cautioned, when Corona containment measures were “much too invasive and hit many vulnerable children and youth hard.” Not all of them come from homes suitable for home-schooling, either because of troubled family life or a lack of online access and equipment needed to follow digital instruction.
While Thorkildsen expects the individual schools to be prepared with new Corona containment measures if needed, she and the rest of Oslo’s city government have been harshly criticized during the past week for not being prepared themselves for the latest rise in infection. Covid-19 testing capacity has been too low, for example, but now it’s possible to book tests online and the city is striving to meet state requirements.
Because of widespread differences in the size and facilities of individual schools in the Norwegian capital, each is allowed to determine what’s the best solution for their own faculty and studentbody. They all follow state guildelines (which, for example, don’t recommend the use of face masks in Norwegian schools) but have the flexibility to set local rules in accordance with local needs and, now, infection levels.
Most Oslo schools have had to limit or drop the tradition of allowing parents to follow their first-graders into the classroom after they’ve formally been welcomed to school and shaken hands with its principal. “It’s very sad,” Thorkildsen said. “The first day of school is a big day for the first-graders and their parents. It can actually be very tough for the children if their parents can’t accompany them. Our teachers and principals know that, and will do everything they can to make the best out of it.”
Many of the children themselves, however, claimed to be looking forward to the day, with six-year-old Oda Nymoen Rundgren telling Dagsavisen that she didn’t think it would be hard to remember social distancing and the need for frequent hand-washing. She’s one of more than 60,000 six-year-olds starting school around the country this week.
Her mother Anne Karin Nymoen hopes Oda’s Hasle Elementary School can remain open throughout the autumn and winter. “That’s best for everyone,” Nymoen told Dagsavisen. “It was difficult to combine home schooling and day care with the home office. We felt like we weren’t able to do any of it right.”