Want to open schools, but can’t risk kids’ health: Delhi CM Kejriwal

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday pointed to the “mixed experiences” other states have had with school openings and said that while his government is in favour of this in principle, it cannot afford to risk the health of children.
Physical lessons in schools have begun across several states in a staggered format.(HT File)
Physical lessons in schools have begun across several states in a staggered format.(HT File)
Updated on Aug 26, 2021 07:04 AM IST
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ByAbhishek Dey, New Delhi

A committee formed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) to come up with a strategy to reopen schools, colleges and education institutions in the Capital filed its report on Wednesday, recommending the reopening of schools in a phased manner from September, starting with higher classes, two senior officials aware of the matter said.

It was unclear if the recommendation will be accepted at this point in time. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday pointed to the “mixed experiences” other states have had with school openings and said that while his government is in favour of this in principle, it cannot afford to risk the health of children.

“The experience seen in other states is mixed. We are closely monitoring the situation. We are in favour of re-opening of schools at the earliest, but we cannot take risks with the health of children,” Kejriwal said on the sidelines of an event in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar on Wednesday evening.

Himachal Pradesh reopened schools for classes 10 to 12 on August 2, but the administration reversed the move less than 10 days later after a few dozen students were diagnosed as Covid-19 patients and total daily cases in the state saw a spike.

Other than this, schools across Uttar Pradesh resumed classroom teaching for classes 6 to 8, and Karnataka for classes 9-12 this week. Punjab went ahead and opened schools for all classes on August 2.

The Haryana government, which was the first to reopen schools for classes 9-12 on July 16, on Wednesday said it was expanding the move to allow students of classes 4 and 5 from September 1.

When asked about the committee’s report, Kejriwal said: “Whenever we take a decision, we shall inform the public about it without delay.”

One of the two DDMA officials cited in the first instance said that the chief minister and the Lieutenant Governor will now go through the report and will likely take a call on the matter only after the next DDMA meeting, the date for which is yet to be decided. DDMA is chaired by L-G Baijal. CM Kejriwal is its vice chairperson.

“The committee has also said that willing parents should have the option of sending their child to school and others can opt for online classes,” a senior DDMA official said.

“The panel suggested that schools for senior classes can begin from the first week of September,” the official said.

Meanwhile, schools said they were waiting for detailed guidelines on the matter.

Malini Narayanan, the chairperson of the National Progressive Schools’ Conference which has 122 Delhi schools under it, said, “We are awaiting detailed guidelines on the matter because there is still little clarity over what “staggered” means. We are not looking at every child coming to school every day. We will look for a three-day week teaching for a certain number of hours in school and continue classes in blended mode for now.”

Higher educational institutes said they will be focussing on ensuring that students from Science courses requiring lab work return to the university in a staggered manner once the government gives the green signal to reopen.

Delhi University registar Vikas Gupta said, “We would first like to open for science students due to the practicals and then leave to the wisdom of colleges on how they plan the theory and practical lessons. The number of students in science courses in most colleges is lesser than in arts and commerce, so social distancing can be followed. Our staff are present on college premises and even non-science students who need help can come to colleges if the college administration allows them to do so.”

Currently, students of classes 10, 11 and 12 can visit schools for matters related to admissions and their preparation for the board exams.

Physical classes at Delhi schools have been suspended since March last year in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Higher classes reopened for a brief period between January and March this year were suspended again during the fourth wave of the pandemic in Delhi which coincided with the country’s bruising second wave.

Some experts are of the view that children need to be vaccinated before schools can reopen. Others are of the opinion that if enough adults are vaccinated, chances of infections among children are low. But with only 17.8% of Delhi’s eligible population being fully vaccinated till Wednesday night, the Capital is still some distance away from reaching that position.

The Union government approved a vaccine for children last week, although it wasn’t immediately clear whether it would be exclusively reserved for children, like some experts have suggested, or just become one more vaccine in the country’s current vaccine programme.

India’s drug regulator on Friday approved Zydus Cadila’s three-dose Covid-19 DNA vaccine for emergency use in adults and children aged 12 years and above, making it the sixth vaccine authorised for use in the country, and the first for children. The company said it plans to manufacture 100 million to 120 million doses of ZyCoV-D annually and has started to stockpile the vaccine. There are two vaccine candidates that have been tested among children in India: Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Zydus Cadila’s ZyCov-D. The first is yet to be approved for children.

Senior Delhi government officials said the Capital will soon draft a plan to vaccinate children against Covid-19 and send it for the central government’s approval. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi has been demanding vaccination of children against Covid-19 at the earliest.

The second DDMA official cited above said that the panel has also suggested a phased reopening of colleges, but did not share specific details.

The committee, formed on August 6, has been entrusted with chalking out a detailed plan, comprising standard operating procedures (SOPs); assessment of the ability of schools to implement such SOPs; plan for vaccination of teachers and staff; and address concerns of parents of the students.

Dr Jacob John, former head of the clinical virology department at Christian Medical College in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore, said: “It is important to note that children are yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19. So, the authorities have to plan each step meticulously. Reopening of schools and education institutes should be done in a phased manner. Delhi can consider opening senior classes in a few schools in each district and observe trends for a period – say two weeks. They should take further calls based on the observations in each phase. They also must ensure that the entire staff – teachers to administrative staff and bus drivers – are fully vaccinated.”

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022