The morning haste is all set to resume in almost every household as school bells will be ringing again. Students will no longer have to sit dumbly in front of their laptops as they will now be attending the school physically, which they were badly missing. They will now have to neatly iron their school uniforms, find their missing pair of shoes, and pack their bags as per the daily school schedule. They will now be able to meet their teachers and classmates in person, and run around on the playground during recess, of course with a caveat.
The school reopening comes in the wake of plummeting COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra. After the approval from Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad announced the reopening of schools from October 4 for Class 5 to 12 in rural areas and for Class 8 to 12 in urban areas. However, she made it clear that sports will not be allowed and the residential schools will remain shut. Gaikwad also added that there will be no compulsion for students to attend physical classes. Moreover, the schools will require to take consent from the parents to resume physical classes, she added.
Meanwhile, the Free Press Journal spoke to a few school authorities in Pune regarding their preparedness. We also asked parents if they were willing to send their children to schools even as there is no COVID-19 vaccine available for those below 18 years of age.
Hitesh Sharma, Principal of Priyadarshani High School in Pimpri Chinchwad's Bhosari area, said they will be calling students on alternate days and divide them into more than two divisions so that social distancing norms can be followed. "When the students will enter the premises, thermal screening of each student will be done and even oxygen levels will be checked. Sanitizers will be kept in each class and washrooms and school premises will be sanitized on a regular and priority basis. It will be compulsory for everyone to wear masks," he added.
When asked about hybrid classes, Sharma said it will be difficult to run. However, education will be imparted equally and potentially, he added. He also said that all the teachers in the school are fully vaccinated and also that they have already taken parents’ nod before resuming the school.
State Pediatric Task Force member Dr. Samir Dalwai recently told the Free Press Journal that emotional management and rehabilitation of children must be a priority of the schools for the first few weeks. When asked Sharma about helping students deal with mental health issues, he said, "In our school, we teach emotional intelligence, which not only helps the children to be mentally prepared but also makes them think positively about every aspect of life. So, it will be easy for us to deal with the mental issues of children."
Seema Bahukhandi, Principal of EuroSchool in Pune's Undri area, said they have installed battery-operated sprayers on their school buses to ensure thorough sanitization. Attendants have been trained to ensure temperature checks for all onboard, she added. "We have tied up with Hi Care and Diversity, one of the best facility management firms, who will provide disinfection and sanitization services to the school premises. They will also provide world-class cleaning materials to maintain the highest standard of hygiene and cleanliness in the school," Bahukhandi said.
She added that common areas in the school premises have floor markings to ensure distance is maintained among students and staff at all times. "Mask disposal provisions have been made across the school premises with adequate posters and banners to reinforce safety procedures and policies," Bahukhandi said.
Besides, parents are also keen on sending their children to schools as online classes are not proving to be efficient. "Std 9th and 10th are sone of the most important years in a student's life. And in these important years, I cannot have my kid study at home as he can understand concepts better with physical teaching," said Rekha Sonawane, a parent. "I will take complete care of my son when the school resumes. I will make sure he carries his mask, sanitizer, and I will wash his uniform daily after he comes home," she added.
Another parent, Sanjay Pathak, said schools cannot remain closed till a vaccine is made available for children. "I completely support physical teaching as children cannot concentrate in the virtual mode. There are many distractions like games and social media," he said. "On the first day of school, I will go with my child and check all the precautions taken by the school. From my side also, I will make sure my child follows all the COVID-19 guidelines," he added.
Moreover, children are also raring to go to school. Class 8 student Snehal Mhaske said she cannot understand much when the teacher explains difficult concepts virtually. "Physical school is way better," she said. "When at school, I will make sure my friends and I maintain social distancing and abide by all the COVID-19 protocols so that the school doesn't shut again," Snehal added.
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