Swiss compulsory primary schools will again open on May 11th for kindergarten and the first six years, before secondary and vocational schools will open on June 8th.
The government has said the compulsory requirement for schools will be reinstated as it was before the outbreak of the virus.
This was confirmed by a government spokesperson on Thursday, May 7th, who reaffirmed the importance of school attendance.
Talking to Swiss media outlet Le Temps, the spokesperson defended the decision to again compel attendance, saying “schooling remains compulsory in Switzerland: to envisage that a pupil misses the courses indefinitely would be prejudicial for his or her future.”
This could potentially mean parents face fines of thousands of francs by choosing not to send their children back to school, even if they intend to continue homeschooling them.
The exact amount of a fine for failing to send children to school varies by canton to canton, but can be several thousand francs.
Conversely, the fine for failing to adhere to coronavirus lockdown restrictions is a uniform CHF100 across Switzerland.
The only exception is where children have a medical certificate. In this case, children will be allowed to stay home and taught remotely by teachers who themselves have vulnerable conditions and will not be able to attend school.
Although children have been largely unaffected by the virus – there have been less than 1000 cases in children and teenagers in Switzerland along with zero deaths – there are concerns that they could potentially carry the virus and infect the more vulnerable segments of the population.
Despite Swiss authorities saying last week that children would not be able to spread the virus, new evidence has suggested that this is untrue.
‘It’s our child and we decide’
Some parents have said they will refuse to send their children back to school regardless of the fines.
One parent told Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes “If compulsory schooling is back, it is still our life, our child – and we decide”.
Swiss legal experts have however said that the fines will still stand, despite the coronavirus crisis.
“If compulsory schooling will come into force again, parents who keep their children at home will be subject to fines”, Peter Hoffmann, a legal expert specialising in school law said in an interview.
Switzerland’s course of action appears to have made it it an outlier among its neighbours.
Neighbouring France, which also plans to reopen schools on May 11th, has said that parents will be given the option to home school their children.
Creating an exemption in the usual obligatory schooling requirement, the French authorities said this would only be allowed where the parents could ensure that their children would be undergoing full-time education.
Reopening of schools must be responsible
Switzerland’s plan has drawn criticism. Stephan Schleiss, Director of Education in the canton of Zug, has said that although reopening schools was a clear priority, it should be done in a careful and responsible manner.
Schleiss suggested that fines be avoided during the first phase of opening – i.e. until June 8th – while he also told Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes that parents in a high-risk category should be exempted from the compulsory schooling requirement.