The Gujarat government on Wednesday decided to reopen schools for classes 9 to12 and all colleges in the state on November 23, nine months after they were closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Online classes will continue for students whose parents are not willing to send their wards to schools.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, in a Cabinet meeting, took the decision to reopen schools for secondary and higher secondary classes, postgraduate, medical and paramedical courses along with final year of undergraduate courses in colleges across the state.
Final year of engineering courses along with polytechnic colleges and all classes of Industrial. Training Institute (ITI) will also resume from November 23, Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama announced after the Cabinet meeting.
Though the Education Minister added that detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for schools will be issued through a Government Resolution (GR) soon, basic guidelines have been outlined after the meeting that will be applicable to all schools, including government, grant-in-aid and self-financed, across boards.
“A detailed GR with the SOPs as well as responsibilities of schools and parents will be issued in a day or two. These would be uniform for schools across districts and cities, irrespective of the board they are affiliated to,” Chudasama told The Indian Express. Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya and all other schools under the social justice and empowerment department will also reopen after Diwali.
To avoid overcrowding in schools, the state government has directed them to follow an odd-even formula wherein classes 9 and 11 will function three days in a week and classes 10 and 12 the remaining three days.
However, online classes will continue as it is not mandatory for students to attend school. Attendance will depend entirely on parental consent. At present, there are no online classes as the schools are closed till November 18 for the 21-day Diwali vacation from October 29.
Parents wishing to send their children to school have to give their consent in writing and have to ensure that their ward goes to school wearing a mask. They should also sensitise their children not to exchange masks with others.
Also, parents have to ensure regular monitoring of children’s health and should avoid sending them to school in case they are ill or have any specific medical condition that may put them at risk. While no schools will reopen in containment zones across the state, parents have been advised to use personal transportation to drop and pick students up from school.
Similarly, college students have to give an undertaking, said Principal Secretary, Education, Anju Sharma.
“The undertaking by college students will include their consent that they are attending classes on their own wish and not forced by the institution or anyone else,” Sharma said.
Hostels will reopen though sharing the room is prohibited at the moment.
The state government in a statement said that schools will reopen as per Government of India’s SOP guidelines. These include thermal screening, no morning assembly, no sports classes or any other form of gathering within school premises.
All students have been directed to bring face mask, water bottle, lunch box and books from home while schools have been asked to maintain social distancing in classrooms and also ensure availability of medical facilities nearby. A student with any symptom will be immediately reported for medical care. If school buses are used for transport, they will have to be sanitised at least twice daily, a government release said.
Calling it a “trial and error” mode, private schools have sought clarity on certain points though they welcomed the decision. “We are ready to follow the SOPs if these are logistically and financially feasible but if following these would take hours, then when will we teach the students? We are also keen to start classes but the government seems to be in a trial and error mode… there is no clarity on testing of teachers, following social distancing in classrooms with more than 60 students, etc.,” said Manan Choksi, president of Association of Progressive Schools (AOPS).
While the state government has been reiterating that the decision to reopen schools has been taken only after deliberations with all the stakeholders, including parents, schools, educationists, health department and school managements, several parents in Vadodara have raised concerns about the decision.
Advocate Kishore Pillai, president of the Vadodara Parents’ Association, said parents have requested the government to push the reopening of schools to next year.
“We have sent a memorandum to the education minister as well as the secretary of the education department requesting not to reopen schools in a haste. The precautionary measures have to be worked out before reopening schools. There are several common areas and children will tend to share meals… The government must decide if the schools should increase the number of classrooms to maintain social distancing. We cannot afford to lose any lives or pose a threat to the children and their families. Most parents are willing to wait until March 2021 by which the vaccine could be available,” Pillai said.
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