Iran's Rouhani says schools to remain open despite criticism

President Hassan Rouhani is facing criticism for reopening schools as the coronavirus continues to plague the country.

al-monitor A schoolboy arrives with his mother while mask-clad as part of coronavirus pandemic precautions, outside Nojavanan school in Iran's capital Tehran on the first day of schools reopening on Sept. 5, 2020. Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 10, 2020

President Hassan Rouhani is facing criticism for reopening schools while the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 22,000 people so far.

In his latest speech Sept. 9 at a Cabinet meeting, Rouhani addressed some of the criticism he is facing by saying the health of students is a “priority” for the administration, but he said they do not want students “to be held back from their studies from six months or a year.” "This would be difficult on families,” said Rouhani.

He continued, “At the same time, there is nothing mandatory about this,” adding families did not have to choose in-person 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,” 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 be safe for schools to open when it apparently was not safe for the president to address schools and staff in person. Mahmoud Vaezi, Rouhani’s chief of staff, said the president was simply observing the health instructions 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, wrote a public letter to Rouhani criticizing the decision to reopen schools. He said given the situation in the country with the coronavirus, the Education Ministry has not been able to adequately create the conditions for safe in-person learning at schools.

Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzani went on national television to defend the decision to reopen schools. He said all schools were required to follow strict health guidelines, even in provinces with low infection rates — these provinces are referred to as “white zones.” Mirzani said all schools will be social distancing and 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, said Mirzani, and all classrooms 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 said 62% of schools have fewer than 100 students, so social distancing can be observed without even having to break up the classes into groups or scattered schedules. He said 8% of schools — due to the size of the student body — would have to break their schools into three different groups rather than two groups.

He said parents who want to keep their students home for online learning can do so freely while other students learn in classrooms.

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