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Germany: Public authorities must align health measures in education institutions to infection rates

The two largest teacher organisations and Education International’ affiliates, the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW) and the Verband Bildung und Erziehung (VBE), and the Federal Parents' Council (BER, German acronym) remain critical of the education authorities’ plans for COVID-19.

The three organisations have criticised the framework concept for updated infection protection and hygiene measures in the COVID-19 crisis that was published by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK, German acronym). The concept, they said, lacks concrete classification aligned to COVID-19 infection scenarios. As the number of infections increases across Germany, they see this classification as being increasingly urgent.
 
Delay in aligning classification
 
On 12 October, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health institute, published updated recommendations for schools for a risk-adapted procedure - with the specific alignment of measures to the COVID-19 infection rate. The KMK pointed out that this would only be dealt with at the end of the week of 19-25 October. In the KMK framework concept, there is a step-by-step approach, but no classification aligned to the infection process. However, it has become clear that many Länder (regions) are not adapting their existing requirements to the infection rate.
 
Response
 
On 20 October, the GEW President and Education international’s Vice-President for Europe, Marlis Tepe, VBE National President Udo Beckmann, and BER President Stephan Wassmuth, reacted to the KMK’s latest publication.  
 
“The framework concept of the KMK is intended to support the Länder in assessing how to react to the evolving infection process,” the three leaders said. “In its present form, however, this promise is not kept. Without the alignment of the different scenarios to infection rates, as we have been calling for months, the framework fails to make sense. Every Ministry of Education believes the infection situation is at level 1, although the infection process has long shown significantly different scenarios. […] Concrete guidelines would, in particular, undermine careless behaviour, while those that have hardly any infection cases would not be hit by stricter measures. 
 
“We expect the advice from scientists to be taken seriously in order to guarantee the best possible protection for all those involved in schools. The KMK must explain why it has not yet followed the RKI recommendations.” 
 
Background
 
During the school reopening phase, the three organisations had jointly requested that the KMK publish transparent plans for different scenarios. This would clarify for everyone what needs to be done in each scenario and name the contact person for each scenario. 
 
After the publication of the framework concept on 14 July, in a letter to the KMK President, the three organisations criticised the lack of a step-by-step approach based on the infection process. 
 
In response, the KMK published an amended framework concept on 4 September. However, the GEW, VB, and BER stressed that the levels were still not aligned to a specific infection event (measurable, for example, through COVID-19 infection numbers).