The Ministry of Education announced Monday that in-person classes will be expanded in phases during the second semester.
According to the ministry, kindergartners and first and second graders will be able to attend in-person classes regardless of which social distancing level the health authorities designate.
At Level 3, three-quarters of elementary school students between grades three and six, two-thirds of middle school students and half of first- and second-year high school students can go to their classrooms.
At Level 4, the most restrictive level, which is currently in place for the Greater Seoul area, only first and second graders in elementary school, a third of middle school students and half of first- and second-year high school students will be able to attend face-to-face classes.
As 96.8 percent of high school seniors had been vaccinated as of Sunday and their second round of jabs will be completed by Aug. 20, they will also be exempt from the guidelines, the Education Ministry said.
When elementary, middle and high schools reopen, the Education Ministry and local education offices have designated four intensive quarantine weeks from Monday through Sept. 3 to monitor antivirus measures in schools across the country.
The ministry said more students will be able to go to school starting Sept. 6. If Level 3 measures are in place, schools depending on their circumstances will be able to bring back all students. If Level 4 measures are imposed, no more than half of all elementary school students between grades three and six, no more than two-thirds of middle school students and no more than half of first- and second-year high school students can go to classes.
After evaluating quarantine measures at school, newly confirmed cases in school and transmission routes, health experts said schools are relatively safe from the virus, according to the ministry.
Nearly half of all student infections in the first semester were acquired in the students’ households, whereas 15.9 percent were acquired in school, the ministry said, and the threat of contracting the virus at home is expected to decline with more parents scheduled to get vaccinated in the fall.
There have been concerns about young students being unable to develop social skills during the prolonged remote schooling period. The ministry said although remote classes had improved since the coronavirus outbreak started, in-person classes still teach lessons whose effects are hard to measure, such as lessons in building relationships.
The Education Ministry pointed out that other countries, including the UK and the US, which are struggling with soaring numbers of newly confirmed cases, also aim to bring students back to school.
In regards to universities, the ministry maintained its previous plan to expand in-person classes in phases once the country achieves a 70 percent first-round vaccination rate by the end of September.
“It is a very difficult time, but it is time for adults to give back to our children what they can fully enjoy only when they go to school,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said.
“I sincerely ask the public to actively cooperate in complying with the quarantine rules. The Ministry of Education will keep a close eye on the infection situation and work with related agencies to swiftly respond in case of a crisis.”
By Kan Hyeong-woo (email@example.com