Throughout August, statements from various Iranian officials about the reopening of schools contradicted one another, sparking fear and confusion for students and their families across the country. The government eventually decided that schools would reopen on September 5, with President Rouhani appearing in an address online ringing a bell to usher in the new school year, and announcing the event in grand terms: “We will prove that the dichotomy between education and health is a false one.”
This statement from Rouhani invited a range of negative responses, especially on social media. Many parents who had announced that they were not going to send their children back to school even if it was mandatory objected to the comments.
Esmail Azarinejad, a clergyman who reads stories to children in the villages of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad province, was one of them. “I took my eight-year-old daughter Arghavan for a coronavirus test, not that she had any symptoms but just to make sure,” he tweeted. “The test was positive. How many could have been infected with coronavirus if she had gone to school today?”
Elmira Sharifi, a TV newsreader, responded with sarcasm. “Health vs. education is a false dichotomy?” she tweeted. “Mr. President, I wish, like every year, you had personally gone to a school to ring the bell to start the new year.”
But not all schools re-opened. “Before sending their children to school parents should call the school on Saturday morning to see if it is open,” announced Ali Bagherzadeh, head of the education ministry’s Coordination Center, on television on Thursday, September 3. But many parents who did call schools on the morning of September 5 were met with busy signals. In addition, according to reports posted on social media, the website designed to inform students and families about the reopening of schools and their schedules was not working properly either.
On Friday, September 4, a day after Bagherzadeh told parents to call schools, education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei announced: “there is no need to call schools; on Saturday all students must go to school in person. The statement [by Bagherzadeh] gave the wrong impression that parents must call schools to see whether they are in-person or not. But all classes will be in-person and all students must attend their classes.”
Criticism from Experts, Parents and Provincial Officials
One person criticized the decision to reopen schools and make students attend classes in person was Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, president of the Iranian Medical Council. “With the critical situation of the coronavirus contagion, whatever the reason behind this unexpected decision, it is not appropriate for the health of the students and their families, and there can be no doubt that it would impose more patients on the medical community, nurses and health workers,” he wrote in an open letter to the education minister.
“The circular sent by your deputy includes many contradictory and unscientific points,” wrote Dr. Zafarghandi. “Most transmissions take place when there are no symptoms. As a result, the absence of the students when they do have symptoms does not solve the problem of transmission. Add to this the unpreparedness of families and schools to implement guidelines to have in-person classes, students’ commute, and so on.”
He added that he was asking for a serious revision of the decision and for education officials to make greater efforts to deliver remote learning.
Similarly, Mohammad Ali Mohseni Bandpey, a member of the parliament’s Health Committee, criticized the education ministry for its decision to reopen schools. “We were not expecting the education ministry to announce that schools must reopen just as the number of coronavirus cases was falling and despite the fact that we lack the necessary infrastructure,” he said. “We reached from 239 fatalities per day to 118, but the number of cases per day is still around 2,000. This shows we are still in a red state of alert. This continuous relaxing and tightening of the rules and ignoring the guidelines set by the National Coronavirus Taskforce results in contradictions among officials in terms of how they behave. It is the people who suffer from it.”
Although the education minister insisted that students must attend classes in person, not only did many parents refuse to send their children to schools, but some provincial officials have come out against it.
Mohammad Javad Fadaei, governor of Kerman province, emphasized that attending classes in person was not mandatory and it would be the parents who would make the final decision. “In the last few days decisions have been made that are at variance with previous decisions,” he said. “Students must be able to study online or offline.”
In the last 24 hours covering September 4 and September 5, two more people died from Covid-19 in the province of Zanjan, bringing the official total coronavirus death toll in the province to 443. Zanjan is in a red state of alert and currently 294 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across the province. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, 10,082 residents of Zanjan have been infected by coronavirus.
“Currently 230 confirmed cases are hospitalized across Hormozgan,” reported Hossein Farshidi, president of Hormozgan University of Medical Science. “56 of them are in ICU wards and 16 of them are in a critical condition.” He also added to the schools debate, insisting that classes must be held online where possible.
“Considering the figures, we predict that in the next two weeks the number of hospitalizations in Hormozgan will increase,” said Dr. Farshidi who reported that, as of Friday, September 4, a total of 710 coronavirus patients had lost their lives in Hormozgan.
In her daily briefing for September 5, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that 13 provinces were currently in a red state of alert and 15 provinces were in an orange state.
- Red: Tehran, Mazandaran, Gilan, Qom, Isfahan, Razavi Khorasan, East Azerbaijan, Kerman, North Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Zanjan and Qazvin
- Orange: West Azerbaijan, Alborz, Fars, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Ardebil, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, South Khorasan, Markazi, Ilam, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Golestan and Khuzestan
Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:
- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,894
- New hospitalizations: 976
- Total cases since the outbreak: 384,666
- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,355,152
- Total recovered from coronavirus: 332,131
- New fatalities: 110
- Total death toll since the outbreak: 22,154