‘I was crying in fear’: How parents felt about Denmark’s school reopening

There were understandably strong emotions when foreigners in Denmark dropped off their children at schools and kindergartens on Wednesday. But most seemed impressed by the way the authorities handled it, according to The Local's survey.

'I was crying in fear': How parents felt about Denmark's school reopening
Egebakkeskolen in Aarhus opening its doors on Thursday. Photo: Mikkel Berg Pedersen/Freelance/Ritzau Scanpix
The Local on Tuesday asked readers about their experiences dropping their children off at kindergartens and school after nearly a month at home due to the coronavirus lockdown. You can see the results of the survey here
Some found the new routines strange, others reassuring. But most foreigners who responded seemed to think the whole process went well. 
“I was crying in fear,” admitted one parent, who wanted to be anonymous. “I keep thinking they are wrong.” 
Maria, from Portugal, said she had had mixed emotions. 
“My girl has been happy about the idea of being with her friends (and I guess the routines) again,” she said. “We adults feel that this is a step we need to do, but not without concern and contradictory feelings. After being so careful about distances, isolation, cleaning, and avoiding others, it feels a big step to 'get out' again.” 
“All of us have never been so excited…Like the day before a summer vacation!” said Matthew Grey from Canada. 
Michael Roche, felt that some of the measures were unnecessary. 
“It was very strange and a bit over-kill, and I'm still not sure of the purpose,” he said. “All the rooms were cleaned out to a minimum with just three toys each. We had to bring food for the entire day, leave their spare clothes outside, and they couldn’t bring teddy bears or anything extra from home.” 
Good communication 
But almost everyone agreed that the communication from their schools and kindergartens, as well from the municipalities and government had been excellent. 
“Wonderful! Our school principal sent out a letter of reassurance within 20 minutes of Mette Frederiksen's speech where she said schools were open,” said a dual American-Danish citizen who declined to be named. “We then received regular updates and a very clear plan.”
“The communication from the school was perfect, and gave us confidence and trust,” said Maria. “The video provided for the kids by the health authorities was a very good and positive way of explaining how things will be different, but fun and safe.”
She said she had been comforted by the last minute change in the guidance, which meant that children with someone with coronavirus at home should no longer to school. 
“The precautionary adjustment boosted my trust. It's good to know that the leaders are open to accommodate others' concerns.” 
Well-organised reception
Schools and kindergartens also got full marks for the way staff received the children. 
“It was calm and organised,” said the dual American citizen. “We stood in a line with 2m between each kid/parent and the teachers were waiting for their groups and equally spaced out. Everyone was smiling and ready to give the kids a 'foot-shake' on arrival.” 
“We had to drop him at the gate outside where a teacher was waiting at an agreed time, then wash our hands, and then I could take him into the playground,” said Naomi, from the UK. “I talked to the teachers and my son was so excited to be there.” 
“There was not such rush what we see in normal days (before shutdown), and teachers were available on the their allocated doors to pick up the students,” said one respondent from India.  
“I am extremely positive about it and it went so well this morning and when I picked her up!” said Vaida Hingeberg Pedersen, who is originally from Lithuania.
“Discipline! I actually have missed it, since I was a child and I can say big kudos to parents and children in our school!”
“It was strange, but everything was under control. Precise,” agreed a respondent from the Czech Republic.
What about the Danish parents? 
One thing that hadn't changed was the Danish parents, who appear to have been uncommunicative.
“Like usual despite some internal reflection… Danes don't speak so you keep to yourself and look at each other without making eye contact,” Gray said. 
“I didn’t speak to other parents, everybody looked cautiously happy but a bit like they were part of an experiment and nobody knew what was going to happen next,” said Naomi from the UK. 
Only a partial opening
The only real complaint was that the space constraints have meant that far from all students have been allowed to return, with just half students at some schools and kindergartens given places. 
“I got a schedule from the kindergarten where it says that they will split in smaller groups and those groups will come in the kindergarten on chosen dates. My child will visit kindergarten only four days until end of April,” complained Alina Nabokikh, who is originally from Uzbekistan. 
“I’m sure this will be phased up over the next few weeks,” said Roche. “I think they are being very cautious and having more thoughts after the announcement.”
Happy children
The group of foreigners who seemed to have the least qualms about the return were the children themselves. 
“Child: holidays are over, parent: some peace at last,” summed up Ritch, from the UK. 
“My two-year old was so happy to be back he ran off without even saying goodbye,” said another respondent. 
“The kids were so delighted to go in so I think that’s the most important thing,” said Roche. 

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Explained: What are Denmark’s Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?

The Danish Health Authority has issued new coronavirus guidelines for the start of the new school year on Monday. We explain what has changed and what restrictions remain?

Explained: What are Denmark's Covid-19 guidelines for the new school year?
Pupils at Amager Fælled Skole on their return to the classroom in March this year. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

Isn’t there a risk that infections will spike after children return? 

Absolutely. After the new guidelines were released, Søren Brostsrøm, the authority’s director, said that he expected a resurgence in infections after pupils return to school. 

“There’s no doubt that infection will increase in Danish society, partly because we are opening up institutions and workplaces and partly because we are changing our contact patterns when we come home from holiday,” he told the broadcaster TV2

But he said that the high number of vaccinated people meant that higher levels of infection could be tolerated. 

“We are doing this first and foremost because we have a massively high vaccine coverage in Denmark, especially among the elderly and vulnerable, who are the ones at risk of becoming seriously ill.” 

“We are raising the threshold without letting go of the reins, so hopefully we will have a relatively normal school year.” 

What’s the big change? 

The biggest change is that classes will no longer be sent home, or their schools closed, if one of their classmates tests positive for coronavirus.

Pupils will now only be sent home if there are “major outbreaks or other special situations”.

This will be the case, for example, if more than 30 to 40 people at the school are infected, if there is a super-spreading event at the school, or if there are new and particularly worrying coronavirus variants among those infected.

Schools must contact the Danish Agency for Patient Safety for advice before sending a class or school home. 

“We would very much like to help get schooling back to normal as it was before the coronavirus epidemic,” said Andreas Rudkjøbing, a doctor at the authority in a press release announcing the new guidelines. “Therefore, our priority is to ensure that the schools remain open as far as possible.” 

In addition, pupils will no longer be considered to have been “in close contact” with an infected person simply because they are in the same class. They will need to have been less than one metre away for more than 15 minutes. 

What restrictions are still in place? 

On June 11th, Denmark removed most of the restrictions which had been placed on schools since they returned after the first lockdown in April 2020. 

But schools and kindergartens are still encouraged to follow the authority’s general infection prevention recommendations. These are: 
  • Get vaccinated
  • Stay home and get tested if you get symptom
  • Keep distance
  • Ventilate and create draft
  • Wash your hands often or use rubbing alcohol
  • Clean, especially surfaces that many people touch
Students and school staff are also advised to be tested for coronavirus twice a week if they are over the age of 12 and have yet to be fully vaccinated. 
What counts as “contact” with an infected person?
Pupils will count as having been in “close contact” and will need to stay home if they have been less than one metre away from someone who tests positive for more than 15 minutes. 
This is extended to two metres if the pupils have been engaged in activities with strong exhalation such as singing, loud speech or shouting, activities that involve physical exertion, or have been together in enclosed places with poor ventilation. 
In kindergartens, children who share a room will all be considered close contacts. 
Pupils will also need to stay home if someone they live with tests positive. 
Close contacts of infected people should go into self-isolation and get tested on day four and day six after they have been contact. They can leave self-isolation ten days after the onset of symptoms, after two fever-free days, or after a positive test. 
It will be up to the leadership of schools and kindergartens to decide if anyone counts as an “other contact”, who has not been in close contact, but should still get tested, even if vaccinated. “Other contacts” do not need to self-isolate.  
What happens if a pupil or member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms while at school? 
According to the new guidelines, they should be kept separate from other pupils or staff members until they can be picked up and taken home, with everything they touch cleaned afterwards. 
Under Danish law pupils under the age of 15 cannot be tested for coronavirus without parental consent, so if a test is to be caried out by the school, pupils’ parents must be asked first. 
If parents do not want A child to be tested, they child should go into self-isolation until 48 hours after their symptoms cease
What should schools do if one or more pupils or members of staff test positive? 
Schools and kindergartens are advised to contact their local municipal health service for advice, and to then detgermine whether the infected person has been present at the institution during their “infection period”. 
The Danish Agency for Patient Safety may then contact the institution with information on infection tracking and measures to prevent further outbreaks. 
If the infected person has been present, everything they have touched should be cleaned, areas they have been in should be ventilated. 
Pupils and staff should be reminded of basic hygiene recommendations.