Schools reopen under shadow of Covid but more closures ruled out

Czech children returned to schools on Wednesday for the start of an academic year that, like the previous one, will be marked by Covid-19. But the government does not envisage blanket school closures happening again.

Around 1.4 million Czech pupils and students returned to schools around the country on Wednesday morning for the start of the new academic year.

As in the previous school year, the spectre of the coronavirus hung over children’s return, impacting the traditional first day proceedings.

All children were given preventative tests for the virus on Wednesday morning, with the exception of first graders, who will get tested on Thursday.

Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

If pupils undergo antigen testing, they need to have two more rounds, on September 6 and 9. If they choose PCR testing, this must be weekly.

School children do not need to be tested if they have been fully vaccinated more than a fortnight ago, have had Covid in the previous 180 days or have undergone a fresh test independently.

As at the end of last term, masks must be worn in corridors and cloakrooms, but not in classrooms.

This does not apply to those who refuse to be tested or to prove they are Covid-negative. Such children will be required to cover their noses and mouths in class and will also be barred from using school gyms or singing.

If they also refuse these restrictions, such children will be barred from classrooms, with no online teaching provided.

These special measures apply for the period of preventative testing, which runs until September 12 and do not state whether restrictions for the untested will continue after that date.

Testing will continue after September 12 if the positive case incidence in schools in a certain district is above a certain number.

Robert Plaga | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Looking further ahead, the minister of education, Robert Plaga, said on Wednesday that the government’s anti-Covid strategies do not envisage any blanket closures of schools of the kind seen in the previous academic year.

Mr. Plaga said that that such closures came at great cost to society, adding that the results of back-to-school Covid screenings were greatly anticipated.

The minister told Czech Radio that efforts would be made to help pupils who fell behind because of online teaching to catch up.

“Teaching this autumn should be targeted towards pupils who missed out the most. And we will continue with that, starting in January and then for the next two or three academic years, using the National Plan for Renewal, which is financed by the European Union.”

Mr. Plaga said on Wednesday that teachers would use the start of the school year to ascertain the attainment levels of individual children after the unusual year gone by.

He said Ministry of Education officials were recommending that schools reduce their curriculums and focus on the essentials in the coming term.