The director of the Directorate of Education accused Espen Nakstad of undermining the work with infection control measures in schools in March 2021.
It emerges from an e-mail she sent to health director Bjørn Guldvog, which VG has had access to.
– After very good cooperation in recent weeks, I must again have a concern, the e-mail from Hege Nilssen starts.
She reacted in the way that assistant health director Espen Nakstad had commented on what should happen to infection control measures in schools, which the Directorate of Education, NIPH and the Norwegian Directorate of Health were working on at the time.
Nilssen believed that Nakstad had advanced what was to happen, and that it was neither in line with what had been decided, nor the advice the Norwegian Directorate of Health had given so far.
– Such initiatives create uncertainty and concern in our sectors and undermine the work we do. It must be possible for both Hdir and Espen Nakstad to refer to ongoing processes, or at least contact us who work with this to check out, she wrote in the email.
«Underestimates the complexity»
By March 2021, the British corona mutation had gained a foothold in Norway. It was a challenge for the schools, because the infection spread quickly. Therefore, the government asked the Directorate of Health, the National Institute of Public Health and the Directorate of Education to review the infection control guides for schools and kindergartens.
It was while they were working on this that Nakstad stated the following NRK on how yellow and red levels could be adjusted:
– Basically, it is about the distance between students, more frequent testing, more division into groups, hygiene measures, better ventilation, and other adjustments that it is possible to make to strengthen infection control. Such as face masks in certain situations.
He also stated to TV2 that the old yellow level is not good enough with new mutated viruses.
But Nilssen writes to Guldvog that because the yellow level in the schools was nationally determined, tightening in practice would mean more education at home for students all over the country.
– Therefore, we must also discuss whether more use of red in areas with a lot of infection is more appropriate than a tightening of yellow. We must bring these discussions together, and based on the input from the sector, she wrote.
– I experience that you advance the process and at the same time underestimate the complexity of these considerations. We understand that there must be infection control measures in bhg and schools, but in line with the government’s ambition for a low burden of measures for children and young people and with good proportional assessments – just as we together recorded in the latest recommendation to the government
The work ended with the infection control supervisors was updated to be clearer, that face masks could be recommended in high schools, and that tightening was done in group sizes at the red level.
– Natural to comment
Director of Health Bjørn Guldvog tells VG that the Directorate of Health has collaborated with the Directorate of Education, Bufdir and FHI during the entire pandemic to arrange measures in kindergartens and schools so that the best interests of the children are well taken care of.
– By and large, we experience that the work has been very good, and the e-mail from Hege Nilsen also illustrates that we have quickly addressed the things that are demanding. It is natural that there will be professionally different nuances in such a broad collaboration. At the same time, it is an important responsibility for us that we communicate as jointly as possible with our partners to the population. The input from the director of education was used as input for a close dialogue where all issues were highlighted and discussed.
Assistant director of health Espen Nakstad also describes the collaboration with the Directorate of Education as good, and says the Directorate of Health has received important input on strengthening infection control around children in kindergartens and schools.
– The fact that through such measures we have managed to limit outbreaks in infection in Norway, has contributed to Norwegian kindergartens and educational institutions being able to stay open in large parts of the pandemic, he writes.
– When more infectious virus variants came in the new year 2021 and created a new wave of hospitalizations, the spread of infection, sickness absence and quarantine absence among children and young people in Norway also increased. Therefore, the school supervisors were revised, and it was natural to comment on the processes around this when we were asked about it in the media at the time. To my knowledge, the changes that were made were completely in line with the recommendations we received from the Directorate of Education and NIPH. In addition, we started extensive pilot trials with regular testing of students in Vestland county and Oslo, which was further expanded after the summer.
– Must remind of consequences
Director Hege Nilssen in the Directorate of Education responds to VG in an e-mail. She points out that they have collaborated with the health authorities throughout the pandemic, and writes that this has also been a crisis in the education sector where restrictions on school and kindergarten provision have documented major, negative consequences.
– We also know that there are no measures that can remedy these consequences to a sufficient degree. The Directorate of Education is concerned that before measures are introduced that affect children and young people, thorough assessments must be made of the proportionality, scope and time frame for the measures, she writes.
– It is not unnatural that I, as director of a sector authority – in a crisis where assessments and decisions have at times taken place at a rapid pace – must remind the health authorities, who have overall responsibility, of consequences in our sectors.
Furthermore, she writes that her experience is that through dialogue and cooperation, the best possible solutions have been found in most situations.
– There have been situations where different players in our sectors have experienced the information as unclear and at times contradictory. In these cases, it has been natural for me to raise this with the health authorities to ensure a better flow of information and a consistent message. Where we have set up collaboration processes to find the good solutions together, we have been concerned that we do not advance the work, she writes.
She points out that how the actors together and individually have contributed to dealing with the pandemic will certainly be elucidated through the work of the Corona Commission.