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Facing Public Opposition, Iran Backs Away From Reopening Schools

Under immense pressure from the public, the Iranian government has backed away from reopening schools. Ali Rabiei, spokesperson for President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday, September 8 that while lessons would continue, students’ attendance would not be mandatory.

Rabiei also distanced himself from President Rouhani’s controversial remark of September 5 on live television that schools should be run on military lines.  “We even do not run society like a garrison, let alone the schools,” said Rabiei.

On September 5 President Rouhani announced the reopening of schools in Iran after seven months’ closure. But while he insisted children and teachers should return to classrooms despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Rouhani carried out the symbolic reopening by video teleconference.

Subsequently, both Rouhani and his education minister came under attack in the Majles (parliament) and on social media. Well-known state television news anchor Elmira Sharifi was among those scorning Rouhani for avoiding public gatherings.

Prominent Tehran journalist Mohammad Aghazadeh attacked Rouhani in an angry tweet: “He won an election between bad and worse. Now, while he is living in a very strict lockdown, he sends people’s children into the jaws of coronavirus. He does not have mercy even on children. He is the bad man who has disappointed the people forever with any president, government, and election in the future.”

Many families have refused to send their children back to school, and some teachers told students on the first day after reopening not to return.

But Rabiei claimed that the government had always sought to balance people’s lives with the need to reopen businesses and academic centers. He told reporters: “This is a test for us. We need to further the campaign against the virus alongside attempts to keep the schools open.”

Rabiei, a former minister, said that the government had listened to parents’ concerns about their children’s health. He shifted responsibility for reopening schools onto education experts and teachers, suggesting they had pushed the government to begin the term even ahead of the usual time on September 23.

Many teachers have contacted media outlets voicing concern that students cannot afford face masks and are unable to keep a safe distance from others in Iran’s overcrowded schools.

Health officials have expressed similar concerns, both over social distancing and procedures for sanitization. But Rabiei claimed that over 77% of businesses and 90% of government offices and banks have observed government regulations to combat the spread of the virus.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Health indicate that 2302 new cases of COVID-19 and 132 deaths have been registered in Iran during the past 24 hours. This brings the total number of cases to 391,112 and the total death toll to 22,542.  The Iranian Parliament’s Research Center and visiting World Health Organization officials have said that Iran’s real figures for both cases and deaths are far higher.


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