Unicef joins 60 organizations calling on Cabinet to reopen schools on January 10
A group of 60 organizations, including Unicef, said it would be unacceptable for schools to remain closed after the winter vacation because of the coronavirus pandemic. "Education is not an on and off button; not a flashing light. It is an essential part of growing up," according to the children's rights organization. A similar appeal was also made by the national ombudsman representing children’s interests.
Primary schools and secondary schools in the Netherlands were ordered to close one week before the winter school holiday officially began. The decisions were made amid a high number of coronavirus infections and Covid-19 hospitalizations, and concerns for an even higher new wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant. The announcements were made during two separate press conferences, one which extended the evening lockdown, and then another which changed the situation to a more expansive all-hours lockdown.
During the most recent press conference, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said schools could be closed beyond the winter break, which is set to conclude on January 9. A Cabinet decision is expected early next week.
Schools should reopen immediately after the Christmas holidays and should not be closed "just like that,” Unicef said on Thursday. They appealed to the government to put the interests of children first and open the schools on January 10.
According to the group of 60 organizations, the Cabinet must look for alternative ways to protect people with vulnerable health. "Make creative use of space, time and manpower. And also look at other ways in which the concerns of teaching staff can be reduced," the statement said. It was co-signed by Jeugdzorg Nederland, Jantje Beton, Jeugdartsen Nederland, and the GGZ.
Unicef said it has been critical since the start of the pandemic about the way in which authorities consider the interests and needs of children and young people in society. "It is not clear to what extent schools contribute to the increase in serious illness, and the pressure on healthcare."
"Education and the social structure that provides learning experiences to children and young people are essential for their development," wrote Margrite Kalverboer, the Children’s Ombudsman, in her letter to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the ministers representing education issues, Ingrid van Engelshoven and Arie Slob. "In the interest of the development of all school-age children and young people, I urge the cabinet to reopen all primary and secondary education schools, and vocational schools on January 10."
Kalverboer said she realizes that the Cabinet has to make a difficult decision in which the importance of general public health is a heavy factor. "But the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that the interests of children and young people must come first in decisions that affect them.” She went on to say that the Cabinet must clearly state how they considered the rights and needs of children and young people in the Netherlands if it decides to keep the schools closed for a longer duration.
Reporting by ANP