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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on May 6)

All News 07:08 May 06, 2020

School reopening
Top priority is to ensure health of students

The Ministry of Education has decided to reopen schools on a step-by-step basis starting next week, as the coronavirus curve is leveling off. This decision was made Monday after taking into account the stabilizing pandemic situation and other related factors. It came after the Moon Jae-in administration announced a plan to ease strict social distancing guidelines Wednesday to help the country return to normal.

Reopening schools will serve as a litmus test for South Korea after receiving global praise for its effective response to COVID-19. Yet there is no guarantee that the country will succeed in normalizing school operations, and getting back to normal life. Thus the government, health and education authorities and society as a whole should work together to win the war against the coronavirus.

The back-to-school plan is based on a social consensus that the country can no longer keep schools closed especially when the coronavirus infection rate is plateauing. It is also in line with relaxed social distancing restrictions which will be replaced with an "everyday-life quarantine plan" to usher in a post-virus world. We hope everything goes well with thorough preparations.

The plan calls for high school seniors to return to class May 13. This reflects the urgent need for them to prepare for the annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) which has been pushed back to Dec. 3 due to the pandemic. If the plan is implemented as scheduled, it will mark schools opening 72 days after they were shut down March 2. The reopening has been delayed several times amid fears of spreading the virus. This prompted the new school year to start off late with online classes last month.

Under the phased steps, all other students are scheduled to return to school by June 1. This means that all 6 million schoolchildren together with around 500,000 teachers will be back then.

The ministry, education offices and schools should closely cooperate in ensuring students' health and safety as well as their right to education. They must not lower their guard against COVID-19 because the war on the virus is not over by any means. There are persisting fears about the spread of the virus after major holidays such as Buddha's Birthday on April 30, May Day and May 5 Children's Day, during which people traveled around the country.

First of all, the authorities should ensure thorough disinfection measures for classrooms and other school facilities. They also need to enforce strong rules requiring students to wear masks and keep a safe physical distance from each other by changing seating arrangements. Staggered school hours should be enforced to avoid crowded classrooms which could become infection clusters. Class lessons need to be supplemented with remote learning to help reduce infection risks. Students ought to faithfully abide by personal hygiene rules and practice social distancing.

It is also imperative for the authorities to map out contingency plans to cope with any infections taking place in schools. Let's keep in mind that it is impossible to defeat COVID-19 without protecting students.

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