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Schools confused over temporary closures due to lack of guidelines amid MERS outbreak

Schools confused over temporary closures due to lack of guidelines amid MERS outbreak

Posted June. 05, 2015 07:21,   


A rapidly increasing number of schools have canceled classes to prevent the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), starting from those in Gyeonggi and Chungcheong provinces and spreading to Seoul and Daejeon. According to the Ministry of Education, 822 schools across the country had shut down temporarily as of Thursday.

The schools are considering whether to remain closed next week. Those that are still open are on alert for the spread of the deadly virus to decide whether to follow suit. However, they are confused as the authorities have yet to give clear guidelines regarding temporary closures while the education ministry and the health ministry are making conflicting statements.

"Our principal and parents` committee have decided on their own discretion to close school for two days because parents are too anxious," said a teacher at an elementary school in Seoul. "Double-income parents are reluctant to accept prolonged closure, while some other parents demand that the school remain closed until the crisis is over. It`s a tough decision to make."

Gyeonggi Province, which has the largest number of schools closed, on Thursday sent an official notification to schools on temporary shutdowns. According to the document, schools are allowed to cancel classes if there is any confirmed case involving faculty and staff members, students or people close to them; if there is anyone who has to be quarantined among students, faculty and staff members or parents; or if classes cannot take place normally or parents strongly call for closure. However, it is difficult for schools to make a decision on their own. In addition, the "strong demand from parents" is not clearly defined.

A number of kindergartens and private cram schools have also canceled classes, although they are not included in the statistics for not being schools. One Seoul kindergarten has decided to close for one week due to strong protests from parents for allowing a pupil who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to attend classes. A large number of childcare facilities and tutoring institutes for elementary students have closed in the Daechi-dong area in Seoul`s affluent Gangnam district where schools have shut down temporarily.

Schools that are still open are canceling or postponing field trips. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has sent inquiries to schools to see if they will conduct field trips and advised those that have not signed a contract with lodging facilities to halt the bidding process.

As local education authorities are actively recommending schools to halt group activities, more schools will likely follow the advice. Still, some schools that are scheduled to conduct field trips next week are reluctant to do so because of cancellation charges.