President Hassan Rouhani is facing criticism for reopening schools whileÂ the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic thatÂ has killed overÂ 22,000 people so far.
In his latest speech Sept. 9 at a Cabinet meeting, RouhaniÂ addressed some of the criticismÂ he is facing by sayingÂ the health of students is a â€œpriorityâ€ for the administration, but he said they do not want students â€œto be held back from their studies from sixÂ months or a year.â€ “This would be difficult on families,â€ said Rouhani.
He continued, â€œAt the same time, there is nothing mandatory about this,â€ addingÂ families did not have to choose in-personÂ school if they did not want to. The other options for students are online learning and educational programming through state television. Rouhani, however, said the government prefers students to do in-person schooling. “Keeping a student imprisoned inside an apartment will also create problems,â€ he said.
Rouhani immediately faced criticism for reopening schools after his address at the beginning of the school year was given virtually rather than in person. Many questioned how it could beÂ safe for schools to open when it apparently was notÂ safe for the president to address schools and staff in person. Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhaniâ€™s chief of staff, said the president was simplyÂ observing the health instructionsÂ and protocols that were determined by the National Headquarters for Combatting Coronavirus.
Conservative politician and member of the hard-line Endurance Front, deputy speaker of parliament Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi,Â wrote a public letterÂ to Rouhani criticizing the decision to reopen schools. He saidÂ given the situation in the country with the coronavirus, the Education Ministry has not been able to adequately create the conditions for safeÂ in-personÂ learning at schools.
Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzani went on national television toÂ defend the decisionÂ to reopen schools. He said all schools were required to follow strict health guidelines, even in provinces withÂ low infection ratesÂ â€”Â these provinces are referred to as â€œwhite zones.â€ Mirzani saidÂ all schools will be social distancing andÂ have eliminated all sports and physical activity, and both teachers and students are required to wear masks.
Recess for each class will be separate from the others,Â said Mirzani, and allÂ classroomsÂ will have open windows. He said they have studied the reopening of schools in Europe and South Asia and have learned from their experiences.
Mirzani saidÂ 62% of schools have fewer than 100 students, soÂ social distancing can be observed without even having to break up the classes into groups or scattered schedules. He said 8%Â of schools â€” due to the size of the student body â€” would have to break their schools into three different groups rather than two groups.
He saidÂ parents who want to keep their studentsÂ home for online learning can do so freely while other students learn in classrooms.