New Delhi: Classes limited to around 15 students, parents consent taken, blended education model of instruction along with the usual masks-gloves paraphernalia — this is how schools plan to resume when children return to campus.
In its guidelines for Unlock 4, issued in August, the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed schools to partially re-open after September 21. According to the guidelines, students from Classes 9 to 12 are permitted to visit their school to seek guidance from teachers. On Tuesday, a more detailed standard operating procedure (SOP) was released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
However, with cases continuing to rise — India just surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second most Covid infections in the world — schools are wary and taking all precautions necessary.
While some are holding off on finalising the re-opening strategy, others have come up with plans and are ready.
Strategies include several measures — keeping the class size small, not allowing students to use public transport and cutting down the school time table to just three-four hours. This is, of course, apart from the regular measures such as physical distancing and mandating the use of masks, gloves and sanitisers.
Schools are also in the process of taking consent from parents whose children wish to return or are being called in.
Operation Back at School
Speaking to ThePrint, Alka Kapur, principal of Modern Public School at Shalimar Bagh in Delhi, said, “We are all set to reopen for Classes 9 to 12 under the strict guidelines issued by the ministry and state government.” The school, though, is yet to announce a date of reopening.
Talking about what they have planned, she said, “The classes will continue on the blended mode of learning with webcams, speakers and mics supported by a strong network. However, the students will be allowed only with the consent of the parents and the class size will be 15 while keeping the physical distancing in mind. (For) hand-free sanitisation, dispensers have been installed at all the prominent places.”
An official from Lucknow Public School in the Uttar Pradesh capital said, “We will restart the school with just three hours of classes. Only 50 per cent students and those from Classes 9 to 12 will be allowed to come in at a time. They will sit with masks, and students will not come in public transport.”
Schools that are yet to release a strategy, say they are waiting on guidelines from states to take a decision on allowing students back.
“We will definitely need parents’ concern before calling students back to school, but we have not thought about the plan yet. Right now, we are busy with half-yearly exams and studies are going on pretty well with online classes,” said Ashok Pandey, director at Ahlcon Group of Schools in Delhi.
The principal of Springdales School, Delhi, Ameeta Mulla Wattal said, “Whenever the state government and central government gives a final go-ahead, we will be ready to open the schools following all the government guidelines. We will also need permission from parents … we cannot do anything without that.”
The school, though, is yet to begin seeking permission from parents and has been waiting on state and central government’s guidelines.
Some principals, though, have completely opposed the idea of students returning to schools in September.
Keran Bahadur, principal at Colonel’s Academy in Mhow, a cantonment town near Indore, said, “I think we should not call students back to school in these times when cases are going through the roof. In my school, we are not thinking of calling students this month, we want to wait for some more time and see. Whenever we do ask students to come back, we will seek an NOC (no objection certificate) from parents.”
The Ministry of Education had in July held a virtual meeting with all states, asking about their preparedness to re-open schools. At the time, more than half the states were undecided on a schedule. But Delhi, Haryana and Karnataka, among others, said they were ready to reopen schools between August and September.
Centre’s SOP for schools
The health ministry Tuesday released guidelines for partial opening of schools, and directed that visits will need to be organised in a staggered manner.
Only schools outside containment zones will be allowed to open while students and teachers living in containment zones won’t be allowed to return to campuses.
All schools have been directed to sanitise their premises, especially the buildings that served as quarantine centres which will have to be deep cleaned.
Anyone developing symptoms while at school will have to be isolated in a separate area. In case of a student, the parent or guardian will need to be informed. A risk assessment exercise will then have to be conducted, and the entire premises sanitised if the individual tests positive.
Only 50 per cent teaching and non-teaching staff can be called in. To manage crowds and ensure social distancing, schools are expected to set up multiple entry and exit points. Everyone’s temperature must be checked before being allowed on campus.
Everyone, including students and teachers, are expected to maintain 6-feet of physical distance at all times. Seating plans are expected to be changed to incorporate this spacing. Notebooks and other utilities are prohibited from being shared.
Apart from these, social distancing markers have to be put up both inside and outside the school premises, such as in staff rooms, reception and office areas, mess, libraries and cafeterias.
In case weather permits, teacher-student interactions can be held outdoors, the guidelines suggest. However, sports and other events will remain suspended. Masks must be worn at all times.
The government also directed regular counselling sessions for students and staff reporting mental health issues like anxiety and depression.