|Cho Hee-yeon. Yonhap|
The superintendent of Seoul's education office on Monday suggested postponing the reopening of schools after dozens of infections emerged in the city's multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon.
"Our children should not (stand on) the frontline of quarantine but should be protected at the last line of defense," Cho Hee-yeon wrote in a May 11 Facebook post.
"In that sense, if the current trend of concerns over a second wave of COVID-19 continues, (I) believe there is a need to review the school reopening schedule."
Last week, the government announced plans to reopen elementary, middle and high schools, as well as kindergartens, starting this week after they were closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected nearly 11,000 here.
Under the plan, high school seniors were set to return to school on Wednesday, followed by younger students who were expected to return in steps concluding on June 1.
Some parents and students, however, have voiced concern over the schedule after more than 80 patients were confirmed in relation to group infections at bars and clubs in Itaewon.
As of 10 a.m., over 160,000 people had signed online petitions asking the government to reschedule the school openings for all graders.
Cho said he suggested the government postpone the Wednesday reopening by a week and reconsider other schedules on May 20, which marks two weeks after the government's intensive social distancing campaign ended.
South Korea eased its social distancing campaign starting Wednesday after daily new infections fell to single-digit figures and local infections were not reported.
If the government decides to push ahead with the initial schedule, the government should give local education offices the option to diversify curriculum, he added.
Health authorities, meanwhile, said they are in consultation with the education ministry on rescheduling the school reopening.
"I understand that the education ministry is discussing the issue (with health authorities)," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official said, adding that he expects the education ministry to make a separate announcement.
On Sunday, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said the government will carefully review the case.
"I understand that many are concerned over the Itaewon club infections that occurred just a few days before high school seniors return to school ... Our priority on student safety remains unchanged. We are closely monitoring all risks and will make a prudent decision, leaving many possibilities open," she wrote in a Facebook post. (Yonhap)