Dutch schools will stay open despite Covid-19 concerns: Minister

Playground outside a school in Amsterdam Oost
Playground outside a school in Amsterdam OostNL TimesNL Times

Minister Arie Slob for Primary- and Secondary Education is sticking to the decision to keep schools open for the time being, despite concerns about the coronavirus spreading. He stressed on Friday that pupils and teachers with any symptoms of illness must stay home, NOS reports.

If sick teachers and pupils result in too few people being at school, Slob will not "ask the impossible", he said. "I understand very well that there may be limits to this. It could also mean that classes may have to go home or that a school itself can conclude that it cannot stay open." He added that the Ministry will support schools in their decisions.

Parents also will not be punished for violating compulsory education laws if, for the time being, they decide to keep their healthy children home, a school association said citing a motion which passed in parliament. A spokesperson for Minister Slob said that generally speaking children with no symptoms of illness, and whose schools are open, should still attend classes.

When Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced more far-reaching measures in the fight to curb the spread of Covid-19 on Thursday, he called on higher education institutions to cancel classes in lecture alls, and to find alternative means for teaching students. But he did not order daycare centers, primary schools and secondary schools to close.

This led to concern among parliamentarians, from both the opposition and coalition parties. They wondered why the Netherlands was keeping schools open, when other countries like Denmark closed their schools. PVV leader Geert Wilders called this "irresponsible" and "playing with people's lives", in a debate about the new measures. The FvD, PvdD, 50Plus, DENK, an PvdA also thinks that schools should close.

But the Prime Minister defended his decision, saying that children are not a high-risk group when it comes to the coronavirus, and pointing out that if kids have to stay home, at least one of their parents will have to do the same. "The social consequences would then be too great, because parents would also have to stay at home. They work for the police, the fire brigade, [and municipal health service] GGD," he stated at a press conference on Thursday.

The fact that higher education institutions were called to close has to do with the fact that students and staff in higher education work in an international environment. "There are many nationalities and therefore many entry and exit movements," Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care said in a letter to parliament, according to NOS. This is a lot less in vocational education, primary-, and secondary schools, he said. 

The Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences are heeding the Prime Minister's call, with most of them already closing their doors on Friday