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Schools reopen for high school seniors Wednesday as planned

All News 10:24 May 19, 2020

SEOUL, May 19 (Yonhap) -- Schools finally reopen Wednesday for high school seniors after a spate of delays due to safety concerns over the novel coronavirus.

According to education officials, the planned school reopening for high school third graders will proceed as scheduled, 79 days after the original semester start day of March 2.

The education ministry postponed the reopening of schools five times, as parents and school officials had misgivings about preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic. Sporadic coronavirus outbreaks added to the anxiety already high amid monthslong social distancing.

A Seoul high school is disinfected on May 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korean schoolchildren have been attending online classes at home since April 9.

The ministry originally planned for a phased school reopening starting from last Wednesday, but it was postponed yet again by a week amid a cluster of infections emerging in nightclubs in Itaewon, a multicultural neighborhood in Seoul.

Forging ahead with the reopening now, despite concerns, shows the ministry's willingness to regain a sense of normalcy, as nobody knows when the pandemic will end and there is social consensus that schools cannot be closed indefinitely.

For high school seniors, in-person classes are important in the run-up to the national university entrance exam slated for November. In the case of households where the parents are both working, school reopening is also a pressing matter.

Against this backdrop, the ministry said it would stick to its phased reopening plan for lower grades.

For high school second graders, schools are scheduled to reopen on May 27, and the phased reopening is set to finish on June 8.

To make schools safer, measures have been put in place, such as alternating school days for different grades. Also, local educational offices can apply different school schedules depending on their respective safety and quarantine conditions.

Desks are spaced out in a Seoul high school in this undated file photo. (Yonhap)

Concerns remain, however, among parents over possible infections at school and children spreading the virus in the community.

A petition has been filed on the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae website asking that school reopening be put on hold, with more than 230,000 petitioners showing support.

Education offices have left room for last minute changes.

"If the coronavirus crisis deepens, we will surely review school reopening for high schoolers," Cho Hee-yeon, the superintendent of the Seoul Education Office, said in a briefing Monday, adding the university exam could be delayed by a month in case of an emergency.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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