New Delhi: Come Monday, the latest set of lockdown restrictions will begin to ease, allowing a partial reopening of schools in line with Unlock 4 guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) last month. However, so far only Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana and Karnataka appear to have decided to reopen schools.
Many others have deferred the opening as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. While Delhi and Gujarat officially announced the postponement, others are yet to make public statements in this regard.
Unlock 4 guidelines allow schools to partially reopen from 21 September, stating that students from Classes 9 to 12 will be allowed to visit teachers for a limited time to seek guidance. Parent consent is mandatory, and the relaxation doesn’t apply to containment zones.
According to the Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 8 September, only 50 per cent of teaching/non-teaching staff will be allowed on the premises, and attendance is not mandatory for students.
Schools reopening will also have to schedule activities and chart out a seating plan to ensure physical distancing of 6 feet, wherever feasible, among students and teachers.
Assemblies, sports and events that can lead to overcrowding have been strictly prohibited.
As of Saturday, India had 10,13,964 active Covid-19 cases, and 85,619 deaths. The total recoveries so far stand at 42,08,431, according to health ministry data.
‘We have issued detailed SoP’
Assam Deputy Director of Secondary Education Rumi Chaudhary confirmed to ThePrint that schools are reopening from Monday. “Schools are reopening in the state from Monday onwards with some rules in place. We have issued a detailed SoP to the schools,” Chaudhary said.
The state’s SoP, a copy of which is with ThePrint, reiterates the central government’s guidelines while adding some of its own. For one, they state that “classes” for students in grades 11 and 12 will be held Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while those in 9 and 10 can approach their teachers Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The SoP says a class will not have more than 20 students at a time, and school timing will be divided in two batches — from 9 am to 12 noon, and 1 pm to 4 pm.
Jammu & Kashmir has also given its go-ahead to reopen schools from Monday, with similar guidelines in place.
News agency ANI reported Saturday that schools are preparing to reopen by implementing Covid prevention measures such as social distancing, sanitisers, and face masks.
An official in the state education department confirmed that students from Classes 9 to 12 will be allowed to come in on a voluntary basis, if their parents permit.
The Haryana government communicated its decision to reopen schools earlier this week. The state guidelines require teachers to download Aarogya Setu, the government app that informs one about Covid-19 cases in the vicinity, and take a coronavirus test before reporting for duty.
Among the southern states, Karnataka is the only one that has allowed partial reopening of schools so far. State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Suresh Kumar said Friday that senior students can visit their schools to clear up doubts, but regular classes will not resume.
Covid risk keeps other states/UTs wary
The states and Union Territories that have decided to refrain from opening schools yet have cited the risk of Covid-19 transmission to back their decision.
The Delhi government Friday issued a notice saying all schools, public and private, will remain closed until 5 October. “However, online teaching and learning activities will continue as usual,” an official order issued by the Directorate of Education (DoE) said.
The Gujarat government has also decided to keep schools shut for now, state Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama had said Wednesday. “The Centre had clarified that it’s not compulsory for states to implement these SOPs from 21 September. There is a risk of transmission of the virus if students gather at one place. It is not advisable for students to visit schools in the present situation,” the minister said.
In Kerala, reports indicate that the state government does not want to re-open schools until October-end, even though the Pinarayi Vijayan administration is yet to make an official announcement.
Meanwhile, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Ahmed Patel Saturday raised the issue of the divide digital lessons have created among students, and urged the government to constitute a task force to study this.
“Since the last six months, schools have been closed and several public and private schools are conducting online classes. And, at times, this is being done to justify collection of fees. This is creating immense mental and financial burden on economically backward families,” he said.
“In poor homes, either they don’t have a laptop or computer, and, if they have a smartphone, it is usually shared by many family members. Digital India should not become an instrument for a digital divide between rich and poor,” he added.
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