Berlin - An administrative court ruled that grades 7 to 9 must also be allowed to attend hybrid classes after educators cleared the way for similar instruction for all other Berlin school classes.

Education minister Sandra Scheers (SPD) acknowledged the ruling Thursday and said grade 7 to 9 students would return to class soon.

"The idea is that the students have at least one in-person date before Easter [and] have close contact with their teacher and can see their school again," Scheeres said. "However, I emphasise that the administrative court rejected the demand for classes without masks as well as a return to regular in-person classes." 

Two students in grades 7 and 9 filed emergency petitions claiming their  basic rights had been violated and sought a return to normal schooling. The administrative court agreed with their logic, saying that excluding individual grades from hybrid classes did violate the principle of equality.

Terminal grades

The Berlin government argued that children between the ages of 6 and 10 had a lower chance of infection, supporting hybrid classes for lower grades. It also said that since middle schools weren't terminal classes like secondary schools, where children can quit after varying grades with different degrees, they didn't need to be in school. 

The court said Berlin was contradicting itself because it allowed grades 5 and 11 to go back to school and they aren't terminal grades. 

Legally Berlin only has to offer the two high school students who won in court hybrid instruction.

"The ruling initially only applies to the two students who sued, but I think the ruling points the way forward for politics. And indeed, this is precisely the question that parents most often ask our committee: When can, may, must students in grades 7 through 9 return to the schools,?" said Norman Heise of the Berlin parents' committee. The panel is often split by parents who want kids back in school and others more worried about infection.

The Internet isn't good enough in most schools right now.

Norman Heise

He also admits the constant back and forth is difficult for administrators.

"Many will not be enthusiastic about working out new timetables that only apply for a single week. After all, the school-leaving exams start after Easter vacation. And then the new timetable has to be redone right away," he said.

But it's also clear that it's easier for teachers in the long run to teach in just one mode. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than a wild mix of distance and face-to-face teaching.

"A lot of schools can't accommodate that in terms of staffing or the Internet," Heise said. "Ideally, teachers would be able to hold their classes in the classroom and stream them simultaneously. Or if, after a lesson in a face-to-face class, they could take their laptop to an office or empty classroom and do video lessons for classes at home. But the Internet isn't good enough in most schools right now. And there are also unresolved privacy issues."