Concerns among teachers about high school students without mouth caps

Many teachers are reluctant to allow high schools to open up completely, without mouth caps and distance rules for students. This is the conclusion of a survey conducted by the Teachers in Action trade union.

If it is up to the Cabinet, secondary school students from Monday go back to school in the North region, without mouth caps and in a full classroom. The concerns about this are increasing.

The teachers’ union claims to be inundated with worried reactions. “The survey that we have conducted among our 2200 members is still ongoing, but at the moment the picture is that 80 percent of the teachers find it unsafe to reopen the schools completely,” says Peter Althuizen, chairman of Teachers in Action. “Our teachers are concerned about their own health, the health of the children and the health of people at home”.

The European RIVM and epidemiologist Patricia Bruijning also express their concerns. Tomorrow there will be a RIVM briefing on the coronavirus and on Wednesday the House of Representatives will debate how to tackle the coronavirus.

Opening schools without measures is against the advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The ECDC, the European RIVM, argues in favor of mouth caps and distance, also among schoolchildren.

Without social distancing, an outbreak at a school is more likely

Mike Catchpole (ECDC)

“In Israel we saw a major outbreak in an open school,” says Mike Catchpole, principal investigator of the ECDC, to New Year’s Eve. “The classrooms were full and there was a heat wave, so students didn’t have to put on their mouth caps. That indicates that without social distancing an outbreak at a school is more likely,” says Catchpole. The ECDC recommends a distance of between one and two meters and the use of mouth caps.

Do the rules need to be revised?

In June, the cabinet announced that, unlike in many foreign schools, pupils in the Netherlands do not have to wear a mouth guard and do not have to keep a distance between themselves. They only have to keep a meter and a half distance from the teacher. “Only if the virus spreads further than expected can that decision be revised,” the Cabinet then wrote.

According to Patricia Bruijning, pediatrician and epidemiologist at the UMC Utrecht, that time has now come. “I think the current measures may not be enough in the autumn. We are now in another phase of the epidemic. We are seeing infection rising again and we are entering a period of the year in which we have more concerns about spreading. The fact that teenagers can also become infected means something of social distancing has to be maintained.”

The unions for educational staff want to hear from the cabinet this week whether the previously introduced rules are still adequate, “so that education can start the new school year next week with confidence,” says a spokesman for the General Education Association.

Classes with thirty teenagers

At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Rutte specifically called on young people to adhere to the general measures. “After the press conference, we think: how can you remind young people aged 18 and over of these rules while there are classes of thirty 17- and 18-year-olds in secondary schools,” says Althuizen of trade union LiA.

According to Bruijning, the current situation also seems to be a kind of licence for young people. “With measures you can also reduce awareness among this age group. Saying to this group that they don’t have to keep their distance is a bit of a strange message.”

It’s too little, too late. They could have foreseen this much earlier.

Peter Althuizen. (LiA)

The trade unions Algemene Onderwijsbond and Leraren in Actie want the government to intervene. Althuizen is worried that a week before opening there is still uncertainty about the policy. “It’s too little, too late. They could have foreseen this much earlier.”

Although ECDC does not want to go into the specific situation in the Netherlands, the organisation is critical of various measures: “I think that if the population receives different messages, for example about when different measures apply in different situations, then it is difficult to understand what is the right thing to do,” says chief researcher Catchpole. “Coordination is important.”


Last week the secondary schools asked the Outbreak Management Team for advice on ventilation in schools. There are concerns about this as well. That advice is expected this week. Tomorrow the RIVM will give a briefing on the state of affairs, on Wednesday the House of Representatives will debate the approach to the coronavirus.