Are Parents Ready to Send their Children Back to Schools?
The central government has recently announced the partial reopening of schools for Classes 9-12 on a voluntary basis. However, are parents ready to send their children back to school?
By Vani Venugopal
Educational institutions across the country have been closed since March 2020 with the outbreak of the pandemic. Since then, most schools have been conducting online classes for students. Now, as part of its Unlock 4 plan, the union government has given the nod for partial reopening of schools for classes 9-12 from 21 September 2020. The reopening will be conducted on a voluntary basis and schools will be required to follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW).
While the schools will be reopening following preventive measures issued by the MOHFW to reduce the risk of COVID-19, physical attendance is still not mandatory. Students will have the option of attending the classes remotely. According to the government mandate, students will be permitted to visit their school on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to written consent of their parents/guardians. Moreover, student–teacher interactions are to take place in a staggered manner to maintain social distancing norms.
The government mandate
The government directive prescribes generic preventive measures that are to be followed by schools to reduce the risk of COVID-19. These measures need to be observed by all (teachers, employees and students) in the school premises, at all times. These include mandatory use of face masks, frequent hand washing or sanitisation and physical distancing of at least 6 feet.
Under the SOP issued by the MOHFW, schools have been instructed to sanitise and deep clean their premises before resumption of activities. Hand washing facilities with soap have to be made available. All entry points to the school should have mandatory hand sanitising stations and temperature screening provisions. Separate gates are advised to be used for entry and exit.
According to the directives, only schools outside containment zones will be allowed to reopen. Students, teachers and members of staff living in containment zones will not be allowed to attend school. Moreover, only asymptomatic students, teachers and other staff members will be allowed in the premises. If anyone is found to be symptomatic, they will be referred to the nearest health centre.
Seating arrangement in classrooms have to be designed to ensure a distance of 6 feet between chairs. Schools have been asked to make markings on the floor of classrooms, staff rooms, office areas, mess, libraries, cafeterias, etc., to ensure that a physical distance of 6 feet is maintained.
Upon reopening, activities such as assemblies, sports and events that can lead to overcrowding will be prohibited. The mandate also recommends that wherever possible, outdoor spaces be utilised for conducting student–teacher interactions, keeping in view the safety and security of students and physical distancing protocols.
The ministry also recommends staggering of student–teacher interactions, with separate timing slots, to allow for adequate physical distancing. Sharing of items like notebook, pens/pencil, eraser, water bottle, etc., amongst students should not be allowed.
Post the central government order, a few state governments have also released their guidelines for the reopening of schools. Schools managements are also weighing their options and consulting with parents and teachers to determine the best way forward. In the light of these developments, Parent Circle spoke to parents to understand their reactions and concerns.
Safety, a top concern
While the partial reopening is seen as a necessary return to normalcy, especially in schools that have not been able to hold online classes, most parents are sceptical about sending children back to school. Safety is still a top concern, despite the extensive measures detailed in the SOPs issued by the MOHFW. Most parents feel that it is too soon to reopen school given that the number of COVID cases at an all-time high. They fear that sending their children back to school will expose them to risk of infection.
“The number of cases is steadily increasing. I fear for the safety of my child and will not send her back to school until a vaccine is released,” says Roopa, a concerned parent.
One of the major concerns expressed by parents that we spoke to was that it will be difficult to monitor their children outside of home. They feel that there are high chances that children will neglect to follow social distancing norms while at school and expose themselves to the virus.
“It is difficult to monitor them when they are not at home. What if they go outside for a snack after school? They will expose themselves to a lot of risks,” says Sathiya Priya, mother to a 12th grader.
While children are well informed about COVID-19 and the risks that it poses, parents feel that once they return to schools, they will be distracted.
“These kids have not met each other for over 6 months now. When they go back to school, they will be eager to catch up with each other. It is quite likely that they will forget to social distance. This age group consists of teenagers and it is difficult to control them,” Kavita De, another parent, shares her concerns.
The use of masks for long hours and sharing of common toilets is another thing that worries parents.
“My daughter is well informed about the need for social distancing. She wears her masks when we step out of the house. But after 20-30 minutes she begins to complain that it is suffocating and uncomfortable. How will children wear masks for extended hours at schools?” Rakhee Jaigopal, parent to a 10th grader shares.
The problem of commute
Commutation is another issue that many parents are grappling with. The government mandate includes an SOP for school buses. However, school buses are not functional in most schools. This leaves the responsibility of organising the child’s transport to the parents. Parents with their own vehicles have the option of dropping and picking up their children. However, for working parents, this is often difficult to manage, with their busy daily schedules. The other option of public transport is seen as risky by most parents.
Are online classes enough?
Since the lockdown began, online classes have been become the norm for most students. While it comes with its own challenges and limitations, it provided a crucial alternative to missing out on school learning. Most parents are of the opinion that online classes can continue until the situation improves.
“When the lockdown started, in April, online classes were a challenge, both for the teachers and children. However, over the course of the past few months, the classes have been streamlined and children have settled into their routine of remote learning. Going to the school is unnecessary at this point as online classes are currently accounting for all the essential needs of students,” says Rakhee.
Sathiya Priya feels the same. “Unless it is something that requires my daughter to be in the school premises, such as practicals, I will not send my daughter school. She can clear her doubts with her teachers online,” she says.
In a poll conducted on social media by Parent Circle, we found that 61% percent of voters felt that the move the reopen schools is too early. Most parents that we spoke too were also of the opinion that they would prefer to wait a few more months before sending their children back to school. However, the fact that the current reopening is voluntary and that online classes will still continue comes as a relief. Given the trying times that we are going through, it is up to each parent to make a choice taking into account their needs, circumstances and the best interest of their child.
About the author:
Written by Vani Venugopal on 11 September 2020.
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