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Children attending nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools in Denmark began returning to their classrooms this week, as the country became the first nation in Europe to reopen schools following a month-long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision comes with a certain amount of risk. To prevent the coronavirus from spreading in schools, Danish health authorities issued strict hygiene and social distancing rules. Desks must be spaced out, children are allowed to play only in small groups during break times, and toys, tables, door handles and other surfaces must be disinfected at least twice a day.
In many schools, classes are being held outdoors so students and teachers can maintain a safe distance from each other.
“We’re all a bit nervous, and we’ll have to ensure that we stick to hygiene rules,” Elisa Rimpler, of the Danish Union of Early Childhood and Youth Educators, told the BBC. “We have a lot of washing hands during the day. We don’t have masks, and we have to keep a good distance from each other, so that’s a very difficult task.”
Despite these challenges, the question of when and how to reopen schools has become a primary concern for public officials around the world – not only because students who don’t have access to digital tools outside classrooms risk falling behind, but also because allowing children to attend school could also free their parents to return to work.
Other nations will soon follow Denmark’s lead. Norway plans to open kindergartens on April 20, followed a week later by primary schools. In Germany, students will start to return to school on May 4. In France, president Emanuel Macron announced this week that schools would begin to reopen on May 11. “This is a priority for me,” Macron said.