The Iranian authorities have failed to allay the fears expressed by the parents of Iranian students in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some fifteen million students were called to resume lessons, Saturday, September 5, in Iran.

After almost six months of nationwide school closures, the start of the school year was dispersed, with a highly variable dose of physical presence and distance education, depending on the region and level.

Departing from tradition, Iranian President Hassan Rohani did not go in person to a school to officially start the new school year.

It was his Minister of Education, Mohsen Hadji Mirzai, who symbolically rang the bell at Nojavanan High School for Boys, in eastern Tehran, where students were outnumbered by journalists and politicians.

The president participated in the ceremony by video conference, which earned him criticism.

"Rohani rings the bell from a distance and he wants me to send my son [to school] in person?" Reform journalist Maziar Khosravi said on Twitter.

"How can they expect people to send their loved ones to school trusting [health] protocols if the president himself does not comply?" Tweeted film producer Mahmoud Razavi , close to the Conservatives.

35-minute lessons and compulsory mask

The controversy had started even before the start of the school year, with the publication of an open letter from the head of the medical order, Mohammad-Réza Zafarghandi, who described as "contradictory" the health rules prescribed for schools.

He was particularly concerned that asymptomatic students could easily spread the virus in the classroom.

"I hope the families trust us and I want to assure them that the ministry will exercise the utmost vigilance" for all that relates to the health of their children, declared the Minister of Education.

According to the protocols adopted, in-class lessons must not last more than 35 minutes, a distance of at least one meter must be respected between each student and the wearing of a mask is compulsory for everyone inside the schools.

Students go through a disinfection booth and their temperature is controlled at the entrance.

In his televised message, Hassan Rouhani called for "the strictest discipline, akin to that of a military training camp".

More than 22,150 dead from Covid-19

However, parents and teachers do not hide their fears.

Iran is the country in the Near and Middle East hit hardest by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The disease officially killed more than 22,150 people out of a total of nearly 385,000 people infected.

"It is very difficult (...) to teach children to respect health protocols and the rules of physical distancing," the director of Nojavan high school, Nasrine Mobini, told AFP.

"We are all worried, my colleagues, parents, everyone."

Amiri, a 60-year-old literature teacher, finds the situation "stressful", but considers the presence of students and teachers in class essential at the start to get to know each other and start the year well.

Azarakche, a mother of a student who does not give her last name, says she brought her son to school for the day not without "stress and worry".

But she prefers that this one follows the courses at the school, provided that the health protocols are "really" observed.

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