Düsseldorf A few days before the end of the autumn holidays, the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Education is showing its colours: there will be compulsory masks in class again. In addition, 50 million Euro will be spent on air purification systems.
After the autumn holidays, pupils in North Rhine-Westphalia must wear a mask again in their seat in class from grade 5 onwards. The regulation is to apply until the Christmas holidays, the Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday.
The state also announced a special programme to improve ventilation in schools. According to NRW Construction Minister Ina Scharrenbach (CDU), the state will provide 50 million Euro for mobile ventilation systems.
According to the ministry, the extension of the obligation to wear masks - which otherwise applies to school corridors, among other places - has proved successful after the summer holidays. At that time, the obligation was introduced for a fortnight. This time it will apply for much longer - until 22 December. The mask duty is supposed to provide "additional protection for all parties involved" and "ensure more security and stability in teaching", the Ministry said in a communication to all schools.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Education Minister Yvonne Gebauer (FDP) said on Wednesday that schools have not been "hotspots" so far. 98 percent of the pupils could be taught in person. Gebauer praised the discipline at the schools and appealed to everyone involved to behave accordingly outside the schools.
The reintroduction of compulsory masks in the classroom was called for on Tuesday by the Education and Science Union (GEW), among others.
As in the summer, teachers will in future always have to wear a mask if they cannot maintain the minimum distance of 1.5 metres. Even if the lessons require it, they can at least take them off temporarily. As an example, in the summer, School Minister Gebauer mentioned showing the "th" in English lessons. Primary school pupils are exempt from the compulsory wearing of masks in the classroom.
Furthermore, the NRW Education Ministry recommends that classrooms should be vented every 20 minutes - as well as "cross-ventilation wherever possible" and "ventilation during the entire break". This already familiar requirement had caused a stir, as the pupils theoretically have to dress warmly.
A survey had shown that schools in the vast majority of municipalities were already able to ventilate well, reported NRW Construction Minister Scharrenbach on Wednesday. 303 municipalities had reported back that everything was fine. In 39 municipalities there were problems with individual rooms. Some windows could not be opened or were facing inwards. 85 cities had not yet replied to the survey.
As Education Minister Gebauer also explained, no threshold value is set in NRW as to the infection level at which local schools have to close. Everything must be done to keep the schools open, she said.
In the most populous federal state, classes will start again on Monday for about 2.5 million pupils after the autumn holidays. According to the management report of the Robert Koch Institute, NRW continues to be one of the federal states with an above-average number of new infections: The so-called seven-day incidence was 67 on Wednesday - the national average was 51.3.
(Original text: dpa, Translation: Mareike Graepel)