Constitutional Court: verdict on school closings expected


Status: 19.11.2021 6:33 p.m.

The Constitutional Court will soon decide whether school closings were appropriate in the fight against Corona. Several professional societies shared information from the court WDR, NDR and SZ share their concerns.

By Markus Grill, NDR / WDR

By the end of November, the Federal Constitutional Court says it wants to decide on two constitutional complaints that criticize the closure of schools in the fight against Corona as a disproportionate interference. Educational opportunities, social participation, carefully timed family life, everything went upside down with the nationwide closure of schools. Not to mention outbreaks of violence within the family during lockdown.

If you look at the court’s catalog of questions and the extensive statements of the professional associations that WDR, NDR and “Süddeutscher Zeitung” are available, then one can predict: The answer from Karlsruhe will not be quite as woodcut-like.

Comprehensive questionnaire

The catalog of questions that the Constitutional Court sent to 31 medical societies and institutions already shows that it is keenly interested in the possible damage caused by school closings. It also asks about the “causal relationship” between incidence values ​​and the occurrence of infections in schools. Above all, however, the court inquired about the collateral damage of homeschooling: about the importance of classroom teaching, about the consequences for the “development of personality”, about the disadvantages for later participation “in social and professional life”.

The statements paint a partially oppressive picture. The “knowledgeable third parties” who answered the court’s questions include the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and the virologist Christian Drosten from the Berlin Charité, as well as the German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases , the professional association for child and adolescent psychiatry and the child protection association.

It is striking how many of them view the instrument of school closings critically, because after one and a half years of pandemic one recognizes abundantly that not only the virus, but also the fight against the virus can cause physical and psychological damage.

Numerous lockdown episodes for children

RKI President Lothar Wieler reports that the school closings “led to more family tensions, more partnership conflicts and domestic violence”. “The situation was particularly tense in families with children under the age of 14.” According to paediatricians, headaches and abdominal pain as well as sleep disorders have increased.

In addition, there were development delays in motor skills “as well as intensive media contact”. In the second lockdown, “48 percent of children and adolescents stated that their fitness had deteriorated and 28 percent stated that their weight had increased,” writes Wieler. Overall, the RKI concludes that due to the negative consequences for children and adolescents, school closings “should begin as late as possible”.

Experts disagree about the contribution to the infection process

One of the controversial questions among scientists has always been whether children are less likely to be infected than adults and whether they are less likely to pass the virus on if they are infected. Or to put it another way: do children even infect a significant number of adults or is it in most cases that adults infect children?

While the virologist Drosten in his statement to the Constitutional Court reflects the view that “children pass the virus on as often as adults under natural conditions,” writes the RKI, while data indicate that “children are likely to have a lower viral load than adults”, in addition, “overall children seem to be less infectious than adults”.

The German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases (DGPI) also emphasizes: “Children under the age of twelve transmit the virus significantly less often than adolescents and adults. The source patient in children is much more often an adult contact person.” Schools are therefore not “drivers of the pandemic”. This is an assessment that the RKI also sees, at least for the second wave.

The German Society for Epidemiology answered the questions together with the Society for Medical Informatics (GMDS) and the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research. They admit that school closings have led to a “deterioration in mental health, in particular anxiety and depressive disorders”, that children have done significantly less sport and have also taken fewer routine vaccinations such as measles.

However, they argue that “school closings are effective tools to contain the epidemic”. However, it is unclear whether this is directly due to the school closings or the associated effects. After all, school closings also led to less public transport, fewer leisure time contacts for the children, and fewer professional contacts between the parents. Apart from that, school closings are “perceived as a sign of the seriousness of the pandemic situation”.

“Completely unproven narrative”

The argument that has often been heard in the past two years that children are a danger to old people and that school closings could reduce this risk is described by the specialist society of child infectious diseases as “a narrative that has been put forward again and again, but completely unproven”. Rather, there is “no evidence that children have contributed to the spread of the population to a relevant extent,” as the DGPI writes.

Overall, the medical professionals point out in their statement that “the infectiological importance of children in the pandemic was given inappropriate primacy and that serious collateral damage was in fact ignored, as was the fundamental right of children and adolescents to participate in society”.

Delta variant not yet included

If you look at the many statements of the experts to the Constitutional Court, most of them have concerns about school closings because the harm of this measure is possibly greater than the benefit. Many consider a school with a distance, fixed classes, postponed start and break times, medical masks and regular ventilation to be responsible.

However, it remains to be stated that most of the statements were written in mid-July, at a time when the delta variant had only just begun to become dominant and the incidence among ten to 14-year-old students was 14. Today this value is 718.

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