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(LEAD) Second phase of school reopening set for Wednesday amid pandemic

All News 13:25 May 26, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 5-6, 10)

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is on track for its second phase of school reopening Wednesday, bringing back more than 2 million students to their schools nationwide amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

School reopening is considered one of the most important steps in the government's "everyday life quarantine" scheme, which was introduced on May 6. The scheme is designed to help people learn to live with the virus and resume normal life amid relaxed social distancing.

Under the government's phased school reopening plan, schools are scheduled to resume in-person classes for the two lowest grades of elementary school, kindergarten students, middle school seniors and second-year high school students.

The estimated number of affected students amounts to 2.37 million.

About 440,000 high school seniors returned to school last week after more than two months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A teacher prepares the classroom for students at a school in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on May 25, 2020, ahead of school reopening. (Yonhap)

The resumption of in-person classes, however, has faced hurdles.

The latest came Monday when a 6-year-old kindergarten boy tested positive for COVID-19.

He is believed to have contracted the virus from his art teacher at Young Rembrandts, a private art school in Magok of Gangseo on the south side of the Han River.

The teacher, who tested positive Sunday, had taught 35 students at the institute until Friday and had contact with three other teachers there.

The boy's kindergarten, 10 nearby kindergartens and five nearby elementary schools closed for disinfection and other precautionary measures. Thirteen elementary schools in Gangseo Ward will reopen next week, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on Tuesday.

Last week, dozens of schools in Incheon and Daegu were also closed following several infections involving high school students.

A teacher checks students' temperatures at a high school in Seoul on May 21, 2020, the second day of school reopening. (Yonhap)

The second phase of school reopening raised more concerns than the first, particularly because it involves younger children who find it more difficult to comply with quarantine and social distancing rules.

To ease parents' anxiety, the Ministry of Education increased the number of permissible absent days so that students can stay at home without worrying about school attendance.

Also, schools have more leeway over setting up schedules to minimize classroom crowding, such as alternating school days for different classes. High school seniors go to school every day to prepare for the national university entrance exam slated for November.

By grade, high school classrooms will run at two-thirds of their full attendance, while the figure is one-third for middle and elementary schools.

Schools in areas with more infections are strongly advised not to fill classrooms with more than two-thirds of students.

The ministry also offers staffing and logistics assistance to schools to help run after-school day care programs smoothly for working parents.

To monitor and tackle potential outbreaks at schools, the ministry is in close coordination with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and provincial education offices.


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