Parents to force faster school openings in court

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Fri 5th Mar, 2021

A total of seven parents have filed an emergency petition against school closures with the Berlin Administrative Court on behalf of their children. The defendant is the state of Berlin. The petitioners are asking the court to conduct an in-depth legal review of the "proportionality of the continuing restrictions on school operations." This is what it says in the 37-page document, which is available to the Tagesspiegel and on which the court is expected to rule next week.

The complaining parents point to the children's right to education (a fundamental right, enshrined in Berlin's school law), to the "massive burdens on the weakest" due to the more than two-month-long school or partial school closure, and to the children's "emotional suffering". The parents are represented by the law office Härting, which had overturned the closing time for the landlords with another emergency application last year. One of the applicants is the 43-year-old father of a twelve-year-old seventh-grader. "My daughter suffers from social isolation. She says her life is meaningless. What kind of society do we live in that doesn't consider school attendance systemically relevant?" he told the Tagesspiegel. Other countries, such as France, have kept schools open in the second lockdown. The father, who does not want to give his name publicly because he is afraid of hostility in this "heated atmosphere," emphasizes that he is not solely concerned with the educational claim as well as mental health of his own daughter with the emergency application. "For me, as for the other six plaintiffs, it is about the well-being of all Berlin children." Many would not have the financial means to proceed themselves judicially.

A supporter refers to equal opportunities
For this reason, the plaintiffs are supported by the association Schutzengelwerk, which advocates for socially disadvantaged children. Despite the partial openings for individual class levels, a majority of the 360,000 pupils would continue to be at home for an indefinite period of time. The urgent application is directed however also against the change model as well as the emergency care as a lasting solution for the infection protection.

In emergency care, the children would be sitting together in a group. "It does not contribute to infection control to only 'care' for children in school and not teach them," the motion says. Schools are not pandemic "hotspots," it adds. There are air filters, testing facilities and other measures in place to restore largely normal school operations, it says.

Parents stress they would take the risk of coronavirus seriously. They want the Senate to return to the hygiene and step plan that was in place in the fall of 2020 as well. Among the petitioners is a single supplemental parent. "I want my child to have the same opportunities as other children who get a private tutor financed in the pandemic," she told the Tagesspiegel by phone. She said tutoring or other fee-based services that better-off parents can currently provide their children to compensate cannot be afforded for her daughter, who attends a Berlin elementary school.

"The gaps in education are widening"
Starting next Tuesday, March 9, elementary schools will reopen on a rotating basis. That means that, depending on the school, children will either be taught for about three hours a day or they will be able to go to school every other day.

The plaintiff mother rejects this model as well. "The gaps in education are now so big, already last year the curriculum could not be met. I cannot catch up on the learning material at home with my daughter like other parents." The final classes are also already taught in smaller groups and in rotation.

It has not yet been decided when the seventh- through ninth-graders will be able to return to school. The petitioners are made up of parents from a wide range of social backgrounds, according to the school. They include students, a single parent, low-income parents and academics. One mother is even a teacher. According to a spokesperson, the administrative court will decide on the emergency application next week at the earliest.

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