Ending the uncertainty that had loomed over Austrian families for weeks, schools are now due to reopen in two weeks. Until as recently as August 17, it had been “under which circumstances,” if at all, that students would be able to reconvene for in-person classes. Now, the federal government has.
In a press conference, Education Minister Heinz Faßmann presented the government’s plan for the new school year, including guidelines on protocols for school operations that he hopes will make reopening safe.
Despite recent spikes in new infections, Faßmannhas made it his top priority to reopen schools and childcare facilities and is pressing institutions to resume in-person classes.
“I want the schools to run normally, but with caution,” Faßmann said, “without layered operation and partial classes.”
In a 35-page plan detailing his agenda, he recommended minimizing close contact between students, holding classes outside whenever possible, and airing classrooms for five minutes every 20 minutes of class.
Schools will be coordinated with the health ministry’s Corona-Ampel System (Corona traffic-light system). The system, which will go live on September 4, will consist of a color-coordinated map that aims to provide an overview of the corona situation across the country. One of four colors – red, orange, yellow, or green – will be assigned to each region, except for Vienna, where each district will receive an individual traffic light color, marking the risk of infection and dictating which corona measures must be adopted in the respective area. Four factors are to be considered in assessing the risk level: the standardized number of newly detected infections over the past seven days, the hospital capacity, the proportion of positive tests, and the ability to clarify the origin of the new infections.
For now, it remains unclear which guidelines will be enforced when, or whether these will be “legally binding or just recommended.” However, regardless of the color and risk level, the ministry’s “corona commission” has promised continuing guidance.
Here is what each color means for institutions across the state.
Schools operate normally. General hygiene and prevention is promoted inside schools. A special task force is formed at each one, responsible for facilitating communication between the school, parents, and students and preparing for possible infections on-campus. This includes developing an online learning platform that can be used should the school be forced to switch to a hybrid instruction mode. Whenever possible, classes will be held outside.
Masks are required for everyone at all places where the minimum distance of two meters is not possible. Students may remove their masks only after they have reached their desks inside classrooms. Singing is permitted only outside or inside classrooms with masks. If possible all physical education classes and other sport activities must take place outside. Sport can only be performed inside under special circumstances (i.e. small groups, short contact periods), and all contact sports are banned.
Secondary, high school students (ages 14-19) transition to “hybrid learning” (a blend between in-person classes and online classes). In-person meetings will be staggered and limited to smaller groups, specifically for students with special needs or classes that are require physical presence. Elementary and middle schools continue regular instruction, but school start times, breaks, and lunch periods are staggered to reduce close contact with others. Field trips and school events are cancelled. Singing is only permitted outside. Teacher conferences take place online.
All students switch to “distance learning.” In emergency situations, daycare is offered for elementary and middle schools students. School libraries are only open for borrowing.