Delhi schools to welcome students from tomorrow
Fifty per cent occupancy in classrooms with alternate seating, separate entry/exit timings for different student groups, staggered lunch breaks, involving parents in Covid-preparedness protocols, and socio-emotional guidance by teachers – these are some of the standard operating procedures (SOP) issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) on Monday for the reopening of schools, colleges, and other educational institutes in a phased manner from September 1.
The DDMA order allows reopening of all schools for classes 9 to 12 from September 1, but most public and private institutions in the Capital said they would reopen in a staggered manner from next week, as the process of acquiring consent and managing logistics was expected to take some time.
The order also calls for mandatory thermal screening at gates and compliance with all Covid-19 protocols including wearing masks, washing hands, and ensuring that the premises are sanitized. If any student exhibits any symptoms, they are to be moved to a “quarantine room” till the parent arrives.
Though DDMA officials said last week that students from classes 6 to 8 may be allowed from September 8, Monday’s order mentions that schools and institutes for students up to Class 8 will remain closed until further orders. The current DDMA guidelines will be operational till September 16.
The SOPs accord top priority to vaccination of teaching and non-teaching staff, ensuring gaps between the entry and exit of different groups of students, and make parental consent mandatory for all schools before allowing students to return to the premises. The DDMA order also says that online learning will be encouraged.
Public and private schools have also been asked to hold meetings with parents’ groups to finalise the readiness plan for schools. This is the first time that schools have been asked to involve parents in the decision-making process, and engage with them on other confidence-building measures, including vaccination.
“This SOP outlines various precautionary measures to be adopted while the schools, colleges, educational/coaching institutes, skill development and training Institutes, other training Institutes, libraries, etc are opened for students in addition to compliance of measures/guidelines issued by government from time to time,” the DDMA order stated. This means, along with schools and colleges, other educational institutes such as coaching centres, skill institutes, and libraries will also follow the protocols upon reopening.
Heads of schools or institutes have been asked to prepare a timetable as per the occupancy capacity of classrooms and laboratories, capping it at 50%. Schools, colleges and institutes have also been asked to keep staggered timings to avoid overcrowding at the entry/exit gate.
“Seating arrangement should be done in such a way that seat/chair are occupied in alternate manner…All vehicles (buses/vans) used for transportation of students/staff should be sanitized regularly and head of school/institute shall ensure all eligible transportation staff (driver and attendant) are vaccinated and it should be done on top priority,” the DDMA order said.
Malini Narayanan, the chairperson of the National Progressive Schools’ Conference, which has 122 Delhi schools under its umbrella, said, “We are planning to resume classes for Class 10 and 12 students this week itself. Class 9 and 11 students will return to schools sometime next week based on the parental consent received by schools. Since schools had reopened under similar protocols in January-February this year, following the Covid-19 safety protocols will not be a challenge.”
Several private schools in the city, including Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Modern School, Bal Bharati Public School, Springdales School, Sanskriti School, Delhi Public School, Amity International School, The Indian School, and Ahlcon International School, are NPSC member schools.
Narayanan, who is the principal of Army Public School (Shankar Vihar), said that most schools have decided against plying school buses for now. “We have schools reporting attendance in the range of 30-90%. School buses cannot function till there is the full load which would ensure the buses follow the designated route. This is why most schools have decided not to use school buses for now despite parents’ requests,” she said.
On August 9, based on the relaxations issued by DDMA, the education department allowed public and private schools in the Capital to call students of classes 10 to 12 for board exam practicals and admission-related activities.
Several schools HT spoke to on Monday said that since they had received parental consent for board students already, they are likely to begin classes this week.
Tania Joshi, principal of The Indian School, said, “While schools had reopened earlier this year, it was mostly for practicals. Since we’ll be having theory lessons too this time, we will not call more than 13-14 students per section to ensure physical distancing. We will try to livestream or broadcast our lessons online so that those at home could also benefit from the classes and teachers don’t have to repeat lessons. Managing that is going to be a challenge. Although this is the first time, we have been asked to involve parent representatives in the planning process, we had engaged with them earlier as well and invited them to see the school’s preparations for reopening.”
Schools, colleges, and educational institutes in the national capital have been closed since March last year and learning has been conducted online. Though schools had resumed offline classes between January and February this year for students of classes 9 and 12, schools were shut in April again due to the surge of Covid-19 cases.
On August 27, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said that while schools could reopen in the Capital from September 1 for classes 9 to 12, parental consent would be mandatory, and schools would have to continue classes in blended mode to ensure that those who did not wish to come to school could opt for online classes.
Several government schools are also functioning as vaccination centres and as ration distribution centres. The DDMA order said that schools must demarcate the areas being used for vaccination and for academic activities.
“District administration shall cordon off the area demarcated for the Vaccination or Ration Distribution Centre, make separate entry-exit for this purpose and deploy a sufficient number of Civil Defence Volunteers to avoid mingling of students with the persons coming to vaccination or ration distribution centres,” the order stated.
Government school principal Sukhbir Singh Yadav, president of Vice and Principals’ Association of Delhi, said, “At least half the schools are running as vaccination centres. Once students start coming in, it will be a challenge to run both classes and centres. Even without the vaccination centre which take up around 10 classrooms, it is a challenge to divide around 2,000 students of classes 9 to 12 into multiple batches as I have 50 classrooms. I have to limit the number of classes teachers can take on any given day which will mean teachers would require more time to cover the syllabus. Schools smaller than ours will face more problems.”
DDMA has asked schools to engage in counselling to provide emotional and trauma support to students. “Teachers are to ensure that they speak to each student and enquire about their well-being. They should provide counselling, emotional support to students, and mentally prepare children for teaching-learning activities and thereafter resume academic activities,” DDMA guidelines said.
Apart from Delhi, several states including Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have already started physical classes for some of the standards. Karnataka, Rajasthan and Assam are likely to begin a staggered resumption of classes from September 1.