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Are Schools Ready to Open?

School buildings lie empty. Parents, teachers and most importantly, students are all frustrated with online education. How can schools ensure that children can enjoy a normal childhood and resume a normal education in the times of Covid?

When schools were shut in March, students like children in every generation must have rejoiced at the prospect of an unexpected, indefinite holiday. Seven months later, that joy must be long forgotten. Deluged with online classes, ‘imprisoned’ at home, unable to meet friends, forbidden to run around and play like all of us have in our growing up years the conditions of the necessary lockdown have been especially harsh on the school going age group.

Yes, we have discovered that students can be taught online. But for how long can we who are already tired of days spent on a series of video calls expect our children to absorb and imbibe their lessons when we ourselves often can’t focus on what a virtual speaker is saying? Before the lockdown, parents complained about how their children were glued to their devices; during the lockdown, such an ‘addiction’ has become a way of life, not a choice. Counsellors nationwide are reporting an uptick in the number of children seeking treatment in the form of a ‘digital detox’. Clearly, online schooling has its flipside too.

Can a kid play basketball on Zoom? Or learn a musical instrument from a pre-recorded lesson? Learning some skills requires physical presence. Not to mention the hundreds of little life lessons that cannot be imbibed from a computer screen.

As we find out more about the virus, we have learnt that young people while not immune are less likely to have symptoms or a severe course of the disease.

Hence, the rationale for keeping schools closed is more to protect their parents from being infected by the virus they may pick up from other kids at school, than to protect their own health. Children should not have to pay a price for being children. And after more than half a year of being cooped together at home, families especially those with both parents working too need respite, and space.

Fortunately, the recently issued Unlock 5.0 guidelines permit at least a partial reopening of schools. Depending upon the number of cases, some states have already allowed schools to start functioning again, while others are on track to do so. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has issued comprehensive guidelines on every aspect of pandemic-related health and safety measures that must mandatorily be followed in schools:

Students will only be allowed to attend classes only after furnishing written permission from their parents or guardians, the government said. Schools will run in shifts; in the first shift, classes for standards 9 and 10 will be held, while classes for standards 11 and 12 will be held in the second shift. Measures such as calling 50% of the students on one day and the remaining 50% the next day will be implemented. Students will sit at a distance of 6 feet from each other. Sharing of notebooks and tiffins will be prohibited.

If possible, school bags for students of lower primary classes (I to V) may be discouraged. All the necessary learning material may be kept in the classroom. Different break times may be provided for different classes.

Group activities like games, sports, music, dance or other performing art classes may be allowed only if it is feasible to maintain physical distance. Practical work should be done in small groups maintaining physical distance.

The list goes on. All of this has been adapted and added to by the Takshila Educational Society, which is the promoter of four schools the Delhi Public School at Patna, Pune, Ludhiana and Coimbatore. In response to the pandemic, a comprehensive Pandemic School Preparedness Plan has been collated with special mention of Infirmary Guidelines with Isolation Room facilities. Considering school reopening post lockdown, the plan incorporates pandemic safety guidelines under which our schools have already created area-wise protocols. From entry to exit, the safety provisions for students, teachers and support staff before and after school opening have been aligned and detailed in the guidelines, which include:

Sumati Arora

Sumati Arora

  • Staggered timings of school for pre-primary, primary, middle and higher levels, as the first step.
  • Allowing only 50% of enrolled students to attend school on a given day, on a rotational basis.
  • Parents’ Consent Form with correct information of students’ wellness will be undertaken.
  • Checklist for students to be provided. It will begin from home, with each student being equipped with all – mask, hand sanitizer, bag containing a notebook, snacks and water bottle to be properly sanitized. Students will be given clear instructions and reminders.
  • School bus: Mask to be on all the time. Proper distancing to be maintained while boarding as well as while seating and de-boarding. Walking to the classroom on the path markings only. Seating in the classroom as per the allocated chart, where only 50 % children will be present. All the SOPs to be followed in the washroom, playground or any other school premise.
  • Thermal scanner with Belgian in-built thermographic temperature. Each bus of the school will be provided a temperature device prior to boarding of the bus.
  • Contactless sanitizer: Des E of Diversey with adequate alcohol content with disinfecting chemicals. Touch free sanitization placement at entry and in corridors.
  • Building and bus will both be created as ‘Sterile Environment’ with prior cleaning with R2/R7- Disinfectant chemicals and floor cleaners of TASKI and further sprayed with Virex IIEPA approved disinfection.
  • Handwashing facilities with soap dispenser and liquid hand-wash ensured with display of Hand Hygiene posters. Prior to the pandemic, the school had conceptualized “Hanu the Hand” in posters) for laying stress on handwashing and its importance.
  • Seating plans: Both in the school and in buses, the stickers denoting “do not sit” will be present. It will ensure “one-desk-one-child” in school and “one-seat-one child” in buses. Adequate distance will be maintained in all laboratories. Libraries will have stickers on desks and floors to indicate the requisite distance.
  • Display of Collaterals like signage/posters/stickers: Foot stickers with 6 feet distance between them are being placed. We have marked circles on the ground at different places like reception, water facility stations, hand washing stations, the area outside washrooms, and other areas.
  • Marking separate lanes with arrows for coming and going at all possible places in school to avoid physical contact
  • Divider line stickers on staircases with alternate sticker steps
  • Cones with plastic chains as queue managers are being provided to have distinct walking lanes
  • Isolation Rooms: A well equipped Isolation Room is being created for students, teachers and support staff
  • A full-time trained healthcare attendant/nurse is available in Additionally, to corroborate sanitization, the housekeeping department has been provided with a potent EPA approved disinfectant regularly used in hospitals for disinfecting patient care areas.
  • Our two-bedded Infirmary and Isolation Room is well equipped
  •  Our school Infirmary has been provided with Infra-Red gun/ PPE kits/sterilizer/disinfectants and sanitizers/Oximeter/ Oxygen Cylinder
  •  Housekeeping and checklists: Classrooms/corridors and especially toilet checklists have been updated to ensure disinfection with cleaning as an additional measure of all touchpoints in the school premises. Housekeeping is run
    professionally in our schools with scrubber machines/ vacuums and required consumables. Additionally, apart from chemicals, the school has procured Taski Fogger Machines and Mist Spraying Machines. All high touch surfaces will be cleaned with R2 and then sprayed with Virex II.
  •  Training of Housekeeping and Transport Departments: Training and sensitization of the entire staff through virtual mediums has been undertaken. Do’s and Don’ts related to Covid-19 have been communicated. Informative posters in vernacular languages (Hindi for Patna, Marathi for Pune, Punjabi for Ludhiana, and Tamil for Coimbatore) are displayed in the premises of the school.

Cleaning and dis-infection already undertaken:

  • Building disinfection before school reopening.
  • Thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas, furniture, equipment, stationery, storage places, water tanks, kitchens, canteen, washrooms, laboratories, libraries, has been done in the school campus.
  • Our school is committed to professional housekeeping with equipment/ machineries and semi-consumables from reputed companies like Diversey.
  • Regular floor cleaning with R7 chemical of Taski. An alkaline soapy solution is being used. Considering the pandemic, R7 is coupled with R2 to increase the disinfecting property of the surface cleaner.
  • Additionally, to corroborate sanitization, the housekeeping department has been provided with a potent EPA approved disinfectant regularly used in hospitals for disinfecting patient care areas.
  • The disinfectant is being dispersed with hand-held spray bottles for smaller areas. To cover larger distances, misting spray machines have been procured. They are being regularly used with the nozzle spray over all surfaces of tables, floors, toilet touch points. Door knobs, especially in toilets, and switchboards have been specially taken care of with frequent spraying of the disinfectant.
  • Soap dispensers with handwashing liquid supplied by Diversey-Taski is available in all school toilets. Only two students will be allowed to enter at a time.

School Transport Ensure Safe Commuting of Students

  • Staggering of school timings.
  • Initially, a teacher’s assistance will be required as there are multiple tasks for boarding.
  • Before a child enters the bus, the temperature is scanned. The last seat is to be occupied first. Sanitiser to be provided, if requested by the student
  • Seat allocation: Preferably, students to be allocated seats for daily commuting to school. Some seats will be marked with stickers that say “Do Not Sit”. The seating is being planned in a manner that the seating indicator stickers will be diagonally opposite, to create more distance between students. For example, if one student sits at the window, the next will sit by the aisle. Even in the last seat, only two students will be seated to maintain adequate distance.
  • Sanitisation of school transportation: Each day, the bus will be thoroughly cleaned and then disinfected. Sanitization process will include a spray bottle of specific dilution after every trip to ensure a safe environment in the bus.
  • Blue colour-coded microfibre duster will be provided for mist-spray disinfection chemicals to be wiped if required.
  • Sanitizer – With adequate alcohol content and disinfecting property will be made available in buses.
  • The driver will wear a mask and drive with clean disinfected hands.
  • Conductors will wear masks and face shields. They will have gloves for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Windows of the bus will be kept open for free air circulation.
  • Wearing masks inside the bus will be compulsory.
  • Students will be oriented not to touch surfaces unnecessarily. If possible, hand sanitizer will be kept in the bus/cab.
  • Students will be advised to patiently wait for their turn to board or alight from the vehicle, keeping a safe distance.
  • Deboarding: After students alight from the bus, disinfectant will be sprayed on the shoes of each student.
  • Dark eye-cones with chains will be provided to guide students to maintain a queue.

Sumati Arora, an HR professional who represents the aforementioned schools lists many of the measures undertaken to safely reopen them

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