Schools may reopen for classes 6-8 after festivals
New Delhi The reopening schools for classes 6 to 8 in the national capital was discussed on Wednesday, and a decision will be taken after the festival season, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Anil Baijal said after a meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), which set rules that markets and public places must follow during Dussehra and Diwali celebrations in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Educational institutes in the Capital, including schools, colleges, and coaching centres for students of Class 9 onwards reopened following a DDMA order on August 30.
“As suggested by the experts, it was decided to consider opening middle school classes 6-8 after the festive season. All the stakeholders were called upon to work in a coordinated manner towards ensuring adequate preparedness for tackling any future challenges,” Baijal, who chaired the meeting, said in a tweet.
He did not mention a month, but a person who attended the meeting said the decision was likely to be taken after Diwali. While Dussehra will be celebrated on October 15, Diwali is on November 4, and Chhat Puja on November 10.
“After detailed discussion with experts, the need to strictly follow and enforce Covid-appropriate behaviour (CAB) was emphasised upon especially in wake of the upcoming festive season to prevent any resurgence of infection. It was suggested that community engagement and support to this effect should be ensured by way of an integrated campaign particularly in the vernacular languages,” the Lieutenant Governor added.
Baijal is the chairperson of DDMA, and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is its vice chairperson.
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain, revenue minister Kailash Gahlot, chief secretary Vijay Dev, and a group of experts that included Dr VK Paul of the NITI Aayog, Dr Balram Bhargava of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Dr Randeep Guleria of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and Dr SK Singh of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Schools in Delhi were shut last March when Covid-19 cases first started rising in the country. Classes resumed for a brief period in January and February this year, but were suspended in April as a brutal second wave (fourth for Capital) of Covid-19 stretched the health care infrastructure to its limits.
Since July, the number of new cases in the Capital has remained consistently below 100. The test positivity rate hovers between 0.04-0.07% on most days, and much of the city has opened. At least 11 states have opened, or announced they will soon, in-person classes for students of all grades.
At present, India’s vaccination drive only covers adults, with just one vaccine – Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D -- getting an approval for administration in children above 12 years of age. Once the vaccination drive opens for children, likely in October, those with comorbidities will be given priority, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) said last month.
DDMA also decided to allow gatherings, including Ramleela celebrations, during the upcoming festival season with strict compliance to Covid-19 norms, a person aware of the matter said. The Delhi Police and district authorities will ensure proper seating arrangement at events by adhering to social distancing norms, separate entry and exit points at venues and no overcrowding at gatherings.
Several schools say they have been receiving queries from parents on the reopening of junior classes as the closure of schools due to the pandemic led to learning and emotional deficits.
The National Progressive Schools Conference, which comprises top schools in Delhi, said it was preparing to resume in-person learning for classes 6 to 8. “We will implement the same blended learning model for these classes and students will not be called to the school on all days. Learning will continue with a combination of online and in-person classes. Schools can start with classes 6 to 8 first and then call the junior students based on the prevailing Covid-19 situation…,” Malini Narayanan, the chairperson of the group, said.
“We understand that the possible spread of Covid-19 during the festive season is a genuine concern, but the decision should be reconsidered after Dussehra. It is time when we all stakeholders need to realise academic gaps and take proactive decisions accordingly,” Bharat Arora, general secretary of Action Committee for Unaided Private Schools, a group of over 450 private schools in the city, said.
Old Delhi resident Nazia Habib, whose children study in Class 7 and the kindergarten, said: “Since tuitions have begun, students have been able to catch up a little on studies even with online learning. But the Covid-19 fear is still there. Every day, we read reports from across the world of reinfection. Most parents I know would not be keen on sending their children to school without vaccination.”
Class 7 student Rishima Dube, 12, a resident of Ayurvigyan Nagar, said she looked forward to attending in-person classes if Covid-19 cases reduced by November.
Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the community medicines department at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, said: “The government should focus on vaccinating all teaching and non-teaching staff and start schools at the earliest. Cities and states across the world are doing that now. Schools are necessary for the well-being of children. As far as festivals are concerned, people should not let their guard down just because it is allowed. They should wear masks and avoid crowded places. The viral disease is still spreading in several states. Governments and people should not take risk.”