No-lockdown Sweden is compelling parents to send their children to school. Some fear their kids could ultimately be taken away if they refuse.
A boy runs across a square in Stockholm, Sweden on May 8, 2020.
ONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images
Sweden has opened schools to children under 15, which is part of its policy to avoid widespread closure during the coronavirus pandemic.
The policy requires students to physically go to school under almost all circumstances, including students with conditions some of which indicate that they are at higher risk of getting COVID-19.
Business Insider spoke to parents across Sweden who break the rules to keep their children at home.
Many say local officials have threatened to involve social services if parents don't give in and send their children to school.
Some parents say that their ultimate fear is taking their children away.
Swedish officials told Business Insider that they would not normally resort to such extreme measures, but did not dispute that this is an option.
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Sweden is forcing parents to continue sending their children to school - including students with conditions, some of which suggest that they are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 - as part of its policy to have a complete ban in response to to avoid the corona virus.
While the school system in other countries has stopped or severely restricted personal learning, Sweden says that everyone under the age of 15 should go to school. There are almost no exceptions.
Some parents refused to abide by what led to clashes with state officials.
They fear that this could ultimately lead to their children being taken away - the ultimate government reprisals - even 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 chosen to leave their children at home despite instructions from the government to the contrary.
For some, it is their children who they believe are at increased risk of COVID-19, while others consider themselves vulnerable and fear that their children may bring the disease home.
In any case, Business Insider contacted officials responsible for the child's education, but at the time of publication, no one responded.
Mikaela Rydberg and Eva Panarese are both mothers in Stockholm who keep their children at home.
Ryberg's son Isac, who is eight years old, suffers from cerebral palsy and has severe respiratory problems. Rydberg said he had previously been hospitalized with colds and flu.
Mikaela Rydberg's son, who often needed oxygen treatment.
However, their efforts to convince his school to stay home to protect themselves from COVID-19 have been unsuccessful.
Swedish health authorities do not consider children as a group to be at risk of coronavirus - even children like Isac. As this is the official advice, doctors have refused to grant Isac a medical exemption from school.
Instead, Rydberg has kept him at home against the school's instructions since March. She said this caused local government officials to tell her that they may need to include social services.
The school did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment, while the local government, Upplands Väsby, said, "We are following our authorities' recommendations and are not commenting on individual cases."
She said that because it is a matter of her child's wellbeing, do not worry about what might follow. "I'm so sure myself that I'm right. I'm not worried about what they're threatening me with," she said.
"If you can't assure me 100% that this virus won't make him really, really sick, or worse, I won't let him go to school."
"School is mandatory"
Eva Panarese is a mother of two children. She keeps her son at home to minimize exposure to her recent pneumonia husband.
Eva Panarese and her family.
Panarese said she reluctantly sent her daughter back to school because the exam season is approaching and she feels there is no other way.
E-mails from the child's school, which have been checked by Business Insider, insist that children come to school during the pandemic, citing government policies.
A message sent in April said: "We have to emphasize once again that school is compulsory."
Panarese said her situation shows that it is not possible to protect some members of a household if others continue 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 big experiment."
The school did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
According to the Swedish Health Service, there is "no scientific evidence" that school closure would help curb the spread of the virus.
The agency said this would "negatively impact society" as key workers struggle to find childcare. Such a policy could put other groups of people - such as grandparents - at increased risk when they take care of children.
Sweden firmly believes in the rights of the child, including the right to education, and generally does not allow learning to take place outside of school.
During the Coronavirus outbreak in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 22, 2020, people were enjoying warm and spring-like weather.
ANDERS WIKLUND / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP via Getty Images
Only health workers or children with symptoms should stay at home, the health agency says.
In Sweden, children are not classified as a risk group, including children for whom diseases they have recognized make adults more susceptible, such as diabetes, blood cancer, immunosuppressive diseases or ongoing cancer treatment.
Studies indicate that children are generally less at risk than other groups, but most countries have closed schools or have changed the way they work. As the pandemic progresses, new effects of the virus on children are discovered.
The government continues its usual policy that schools should investigate the situation when children are absent again and, in some cases, report it to local authorities, which may include social services.
Anxiety about the corona virus is not a valid reason to keep children at 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 children
Ia Almström lives in Kungälv, about half an hour's drive from Sweden's second largest city, Gothenburg.
The authorities there have threatened to take her to court if her children do not go to school.
Almström has three children, who she has had at home since April, because she is at increased risk from the virus due to her asthma.
She received a letter from the local government on May 5, seen by Business Insider, saying that she could be referred to social services, where she could be brought to justice or fined.
The authority in question, Kungälvs Kommun, declined to comment on Almström's case.
Almström said, "It is heartless how Sweden treats us. They don't take our fears seriously. We get no help, only threats."
Almström said she and many parents "are afraid of losing our children or something."
"That's what they do when they think parents can't take care of the kids. Then they move the kids away. It's something we're afraid of."
A large Swedish healthcare label is on a sidewalk in the heart of Stockholm to instruct people to follow the 2-meter rule to reduce the risk of disease on May 4, 2020 during the new Coronavirus Covid 19 pandemic .
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images
Last way out
A spokeswoman for the Swedish Health and Social Service said that taking away a child is the government's last resort.
She said, "Usually social services talk to the child, parents, and school, trying to figure out the underlying problem."
"It's a big step to take a child away from parents - not just being away from school is usually a reason to place a child in nursing homes or nursing homes," she said, implying that other problems have to do with the children's condition should have been treated or raised for the action to take place.
However, escalation is not the only way out - some parents compromise with their schools.
Jennifer Luetz from Germany lives about 100 miles from Stockholm in the city of Norrköping.
She said she contacted her children's school on March 12 to say that they would stay home because of a weakened immune system.
She said the school was "understanding" and helped her children work at home. The officials, she said, decided not to escalate her case because what she called "valid reason" would keep her at home.
Other parents have tried to make similar arrangements.
And Luetz said she was still concerned about Sweden's approach to public health and had social ramifications 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."
The teachers are worried too
A teacher in Stockholm, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not allowed to speak, said that he agreed that many parents keep their children away.
The teacher told Business Insider: "I don't think a good epidemiologist would get us to send our children to school if there are many people at risk in the same household in many homes."
The teacher is originally from the United States, but has lived in Stockholm for six years and said his spouse belongs to a risk group.
The teacher said they are concerned about the health of older teachers and parents who are older or otherwise at risk.
Andreia Rodrigues, a preschool teacher who also works in Stockholm, described the government's plan as "unacceptable".
People walk the main street of Stockholm's old town, Sweden, on March 25, 2020, as the world fights the corona virus.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images)
She said the parents had to "decide whether to argue with the school and then take the consequences".
"Even if children have parents who are confirmed to have COVID-19 at home, they can still be there," she said.
"We cannot refuse to accept children, even if the parents come to us and admit that I have COVID-19."
"We were lucky enough not to be reported yet."
Lisa Meyler, who lives in Stockholm, said she has had her 11-year-old daughter at home since March.
Meyler has an autoimmune disorder while her husband is an asthmatic.
"We refuse to knowingly endanger our daughter's health and life," said Meyler, saying that she "will not allow her to be part of this herd immunity experiment."
"We were lucky enough not to be reported yet, but it was made clear that leaving her at home after the summer vacation was not an option."
The school that their daughter attended did not respond to Business Insider's request to clarify their policies.
She said, "Taking children away is the ultimate fear" for parents.
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