Everyone has the right to keep their children from going to school if they don’t want them tested for coronavirus but they shouldn’t complain later about their inability to take the exams, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said on Friday.
The minister took a stand after the announcement that pupils aged 12 and older, teachers and other staff at schools must get tested weekly for coronavirus, prompted reactions and threats of lawsuits over the violation of children’s human rights.
“We are forced to take extraordinary measures that none of us wants but are necessary,” Prodromou told state broadcaster CyBC. “We have decided, after the decree of the health minister, that the rule of operation for schools is that no one can come into the schools without a negative test.”
On Friday, a small group of parents, around 15 people, gathered outside the education ministry holding banners saying among other things: “There is no health without freedom” and “No tests to our asymptomatic children.”
The minister expressed his conviction that, just like a very small number of teachers had refused to get tested when it was announced they had to do it to return to work, the same will happen with pupils as well.
When the ministry encouraged high-school leavers who returned earlier to schools to get tested, which was non-obligatory, he said, 63 per cent of pupils presented negative tests. He added that the complaints and reactions voiced are not by the majority but a small number of people.
“The question is, do we prefer to operate schools with the condition of weekly negative tests or we’d rather keep the schools closed?” he asked.
Tests in lyceums and technical schools started on Thursday. On Friday, 11 positive cases were detected among 10,147 testes carried out in 36 lyceums and technical schools in all districts, with overall positivity rate 0.14 per cent, the health ministry said. These concerns six cases in Nicosia with positivity rate (0.16 per cent), three in Limassol (0.11 per cent) and two in Paphos (0.14 per cent).
But teachers expressed concerns over the possibility of pupils who refuse to get tested showing up for class.
A head-teacher told CyBC they were concerned because, according to the ministry’s instructions, pupils without negative tests are not to be allowed in the classrooms. “What are we to do if they refuse to leave, call the police? We will not do that,” the teacher said. He added that some parents already expressed opposition to the testing of their children, either citing global conspiracies or the perceived unconstitutionality of the decree.
“The instructions given to schools is that for them to notify the education ministry, which will handle these cases,” Prodromou said. He reiterated that he does not believe there will be many such cases.
On reactions to pupils getting tested, Prodromou said tests were the only defence for schools so that they do not become virus hotspots.
He also urged people “set aside some perceptions and philosophies,” referring to anti-vaxxers and those citing conspiracy theories. The education ministry, he said, had held seminars for parents associations months ago while material was distributed in schools about coronavirus.
Prodromou also raised the issue of exams and said that the ministry was receiving many questions from pupils, teachers, and parents about what will happen. “If we do not go to schools, how can we talk about exams?” he asked.
He added that if people disagreeing with the testing want their children to not go to school, “they are free to do so but they should not come a few weeks later and cite this absence to declare inability to participate in the exams.”
Some parents also complained of discrimination after reports that children of people working at the American embassy were exempt from testing. “American embassy children will get tested according to the same rules and procedures as all other children attending schools in Cyprus,” an embassy source told the Cyprus Mail on Friday.
Another parent raised the issue of failure on behalf of the ministry in monitoring the teachers who do not wear masks around the children. “My daughter tested positive because a teacher in the class in very close proximity to the kids was not wearing a mask,” she told the Cyprus Mail. She added that four children got the virus and all the class, their families and close contacts must now isolate because of this. The education ministry was not immediately available to comment on this.