Educators yesterday called for national standards for responding to COVID-19 outbreaks involving preschools, including suspending work for parents and prioritizing vaccinations for school employees, amid differing local protocols implemented in response to a preschool outbreak in New Taipei City.
Since the emergence of a cluster of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant linked to a preschool in Banciao District (板橋), local governments nationwide have been instituting their own standards for suspending classes, as they are authorized to do by the Ministry of Education.
However, differing standards have not only made it difficult for schools to comply, but have also confused many parents, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.
At the moment, the ministry has not stipulated requirements for suspending classes in response to an outbreak, leaving the task up to local governments or even individual schools to specify as they see fit, he said.
Although the policy is well intentioned, it forces schools to make difficult decisions about what constitutes a situation worthy of closure, Huang said.
For instance, if a student or teacher is listed as a contact of a confirmed case, it is unclear whether their classes should be suspended or for how long, he said.
The schools must also face questions from discontented parents, he said, urging the ministry to set standards based on those adopted by local governments.
To rectify the problem, Childhood Education and Nursing Association president Wang Chao-min (王超敏) proposed two solutions.
First, parents should be asked to stay at home with their children, with labor insurance covering lost wages, Wang said.
Additionally, second dose priority for vaccines should be given to those working in preschools and kindergartens, starting with a registry so that the total number of required doses is known before they arrive, he added.
Wang Hui-chiu (王慧秋), head of the Division of Preschool Education at the K-12 Education Administration, agreed that general guidelines should be established to prevent shifting the burden onto schools.
Taipei and New Taipei City have their own city-wide policies, as the pandemic is more serious in these areas, but since they are inconsistent, more discussion is required to determine which policies should be adopted nationwide, she said.
As for vaccines, records from first-dose appointments could be used to make arrangements for second doses, she said, adding that the ministry would discuss the matter with health officials.
However, the idea of suspending work along with classes has not been discussed before, Wang said, promising to bring the proposal back to the ministry for deliberation.
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