Maler Cristian Abreu Hidalgo// No-lockdown Sweden is compelling parents to send their children to school. Some fear their kids could ultimately be taken away if they refuse. - EntornoInteligente
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ONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Sweden has kept schools open for children under 15, part of its policy of avoiding a widespread lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cristian Abreu-Hidalgo

Its policy is that students must physically attend school in almost all circumstances, including students with conditions that some evidence suggests may make them more at risk of catching COVID-19.

Cristian Abreu

Business Insider spoke to parents across Sweden who are disobeying the rules to keep their kids home.

Cristian Abreu Hidalgo

Many say local officials have threatened to involve social services if the parents do not relent and send their children to school

Some parents say their ultimate fear is having their children taken away

Swedish officials told Business Insider they would not usually resort to such an extreme measure, though did not deny that it is a possibility

Visit Business Insider‘s homepage for more stories

ONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Sweden has kept schools open for children under 15, part of its policy of avoiding a widespread lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cristian Abreu-Hidalgo

Its policy is that students must physically attend school in almost all circumstances, including students with conditions that some evidence suggests may make them more at risk of catching COVID-19.

Cristian Abreu

Business Insider spoke to parents across Sweden who are disobeying the rules to keep their kids home.

Cristian Abreu Hidalgo

Many say local officials have threatened to involve social services if the parents do not relent and send their children to school

Some parents say their ultimate fear is having their children taken away

Swedish officials told Business Insider they would not usually resort to such an extreme measure, though did not deny that it is a possibility

Visit Business Insider‘s homepage for more stories .

Sweden is compelling parents to keep sending their children to school — including students with conditions that some evidence suggests may make them more at risk of catching COVID-19 — as part of its policy to avoid a fullscale lockdown in response to the coronavirus

While school systems in other countries have ceased or greatly restricted in-person learning, Sweden says that anyone under 15 should keep going to school. There are almost no exceptions

Some parents have refused to comply, sparking a stand-off with state officials

They worry this could eventually end with their children being taken away — the ultimate reprisal from the government — though officials stress that this would only happen in extreme scenarios

Business Insider spoke to seven parents and teachers across Sweden, many of whom have decided to keep their children home despite instructions from the government to the contrary

For some, it is their children who they believe are at elevated risk for COVID-19, while others consider themselves vulnerable and fear their children could bring the disease home

Story continues In each case, Business Insider contacted officials responsible for the child’s education, but none offered a response by the time of publication

Mikaela Rydberg and Eva Panarese are both mothers in Stockholm who are keeping their children home

Ryberg’s son Isac, who is eight years old, has cerebral palsy and suffers badly from respiratory illnesses. Rydberg said he had been hospitalized before with colds and flu

Mikaela Rydberg‘s son, who has frequently needed oxygen treatment. Mikaela Rydberg

However, her efforts to persuade his school that he should be kept home to shield from COVID-19 have not been successful

Swedish health officials do not consider children as a group to be at risk from the coronavirus — even children like Isac. As this is the official advice, doctors have declined to give Isac a medical exemption from school

Instead, Rydberg has kept him home since March against the school’s instructions, which she said prompted local government officials to tell her that they may have to involve social services. 

The school did not respond to Business Insider‘s request for comment, while the local government, Upplands Väsby, said, “We follow the recommendations from our authorities and we do not give comments on individual cases.”

She said that because it is a question of her child’s welfare, she is not worried about what could follow. “I am so certain myself that I am right, I am not worried about what they threaten me with,” she said

“Unless you can 100% reassure me that he won’t be really, really sick or worse by this virus, then I will not let him go to school.”

‘School is compulsory’ Eva Panarese is a mother of two. She is keeping her son home to minimize exposure to her husband, who has recently suffered from pneumonia

Eva Panarese and her family. Eva Panarese

Panarese said she reluctantly sent her daughter back to school because exam seasons is approaching and she felt there was no other option

Emails from the child’s school reviewed by Business Insider insist that children come to school during the pandemic, citing government policy

One message, sent in April, said: “We need to emphasize again that school is compulsory.”

Panarese said her situation shows that it isn’t possible to protect some members of a household if others are still obliged to go to school and risk infection

“I don’t know who will be right or wrong but I don’t want the risk,” she said. “I don’t want to be part of a grand experiment.”

The school did not respond to Business Insider‘s request for comment

No exceptions Sweden‘s Public Health Agency says there is “no scientific evidence” that closing schools would help mitigate the spread of the virus

The agency said doing so “would have a negative impact on society” by leaving essential workers struggling to find childcare. It said such a policy might put other groups of people — like grandparents — at increased risk if they care for children

Sweden has strong beliefs in the rights of the child, which includes the right to education, and typically does not allow that learning to take place outside of school

People enjoy warm and spring-like weather during the coronavirus outbreak in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020. ANDERS WIKLUND/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

Only staff or children with symptoms should stay home, the Public Health Agency says

Sweden does not include children as an at-risk group , even children who have conditions that they acknowledge increase the vulnerability of adults , like diabetes, blood cancers, immunosuppressive conditions, or ongoing cancer treatments

Studies suggest children are generally less at-risk than other groups , but most countries have nonetheless closed schools, or radically changed the way they operate. New effects of the virus on children are also being discovered as the pandemic progresses

The government is continuing its usual policy, which says that when children are repeatedly absent, schools are supposed to investigate and, in some cases, report the situation to local authorities, which can involve social services

Fears over the coronavirus is not considered a valid reason for keeping children home

People enjoyed the warm spring weather in Stockholm on April 21, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Afraid of losing their kids Ia Almström lives in Kungälv, around half an hour’s drive from Sweden‘s second-largest city, Gothenburg

Authorities there have threatened to take her to court if her kids remain out of school

Almström has three children, whom she has kept home since April because she faces an increased risk from the virus because of her asthma

She received a letter from the local government on May 5, seen by Business Insider, which said that she could be referred to social services, where she could face a court order or a fine

The authority in question, Kungälvs Kommun, declined to comment on Almström’s case

Almström said: “It is heartless how Sweden treats us. They do not take our fears seriously. We get no help, only threats.”

Almström said she and many parents “are afraid to lose our children or something.”

“That is what they do when they think that parents [cannot] take care of the children. Then they move the children away. So that’s something we are afraid of.”

A big sticker of the healthcare services of Sweden is placed on a pavement in the heart of Stockholm to instruct people to follow the 2 meters rule to reduce the risk of getting sick on May 4, 2020 during the new coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

Last resort A spokeswoman for Sweden‘s National Board of Health and Welfare said that taking a child away is the government’s last resort

She said: “Normally, the social services will talk to the child, parents, and the school – trying to find out the underlying problem.”

“It is a big step to take a child away from the parents – not only school absence will normally be a reason to place a child in residential care or in foster home,” she said, implying that other issues with how the children are being treated or raised would need to be found for the action to take place

However, escalation is not the only way out — some parents reach a compromise with their schools

Jennifer Luetz, who is originally from Germany, lives some 100 miles from Stockholm in the town of Norrköping

She said she contacted her children’s school on March 12 to say they would be staying home, as she has a weakened immune system

She said the school was “understanding” and helped her children to work at home. The officials, she said, decided not to escalate her case as she what she described as a “valid reason” to keep her them at home

Other parents have struggled to reach similar agreements

And Luetz said she is still worried by Sweden‘s public health approach, and has faced social consequences for her decision

A nurse puts on personal protective equipment (PPE) in a tent at a Stockholm hospital before testing a patient for the coronavirus in Sweden on April 22, 2020. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

“My Swedish support network basically dried up overnight,” she said. “My Swedish friends stopped talking to me.” 

Teachers worry, too One teacher in Stockholm, who asked to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak, said that they agree with many of the parents keeping their children away

The teacher told Business Insider: “I do not believe that a good epidemiologist would make us send our children to school when many homes have at-risk people living in the same household.”

The teacher is originally from the US but has lived in Stockholm for six years, and said their spouse is in a risk group

The teacher said they worry for the health of older teachers and parents who are elderly or otherwise vulnerable. 

Andreia Rodrigues, a preschool teacher who also works in Stockholm, called the government’s plan “unacceptable.”

People walk in the main street of the old town in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 25, 2020, as the world fights the coronavirus. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

She said it leaves parents having “to decide if they want to take on a fight with the school and then take the consequences.”

“Even if kids have parents who are confirmed to have COVID-19 at home, they are still allowed to be there,” she said

“We cannot refuse taking kids, even if the parents come to us and admit ‘I have COVID-19.'”

‘We have been lucky not to be reported yet’ Lisa Meyler, who lives in Stockholm, said she has been keeping her 11-year-old daughter home since March

Meyler has an autoimmune disease while her husband is asthmatic

“We refuse to knowingly put our daughter’s health and life at risk,” Meyler said, saying she will “not let her be a part of this herd immunity experiment.”

“We have been lucky not to be reported yet, but it has been made clear that it is not an option to let her stay home after the summer holidays.”

The school that her daughter attends did not respond to Business Insider‘s request to clarify its policy

She said having “children taken away is the ultimate fear” for parents

Read the original article on Business Insider

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