Parents and teachers claim the state government should defer reopening of schools as "Safety of chidren is priority" and it is not possible to maintain physical distancing due to limited space in classrooms and large number of students per class in state-run schools. Following the plans of the state education ministry to reopen schools in non-red zones of Maharashtra from June 15, principals, teachers and parents of Mumbai schools claim this might take longer due to increasing number of cases.
In state-board schools there are over 50 to 60 students per class per standard which makes it difficult to practise distancing norms even if we have batches, shorter hour shifts or one student per bench, said Madhvi Joshi, a teacher of a South Mumbai school. Joshi said, "Even if I teach in batches, I will have to cater to least 25 to 30 students in a class at one time. Classrooms have limited space too, how will we maintain distance between students?"
Starting schools will lead to interaction among children thus increasing the risk of the spread of the infection, said Vinayak Patnik, a parent. Patnik said, "Despite instructions, children will interact with their fellow counterparts, teachers and staff. We cannot totally restrict them from talking or walking home with their classmates." While, Sharanya Tulli, another parent said, "Safety of children is our priority and the state should defer reopening of schools till the number of cases reduce or come to a standstill."
School authorities claim reopening of schools in Mumbai will take longer probably till July or August. Fr Frazer Mascarenhas, manager of St Stanislaus School at Bandra, said, "At this point, it is not possible to say when schools in Mumbai will reopen. It depends entirely on the situation as the number of cases are not reducing but are going higher every day." While a principal of a Borivali school, said, "Considering the number of cases, schools in Mumbai will need time till July or August to reopen."
It is high time that the state should issue specific guidelines and directions if they plan on reopening schools, said Arundhati Chavan, president of Parent Teacher Association (PTA) United Forum. Chavan said, "Parents are anxious and stressed about the safety of their children and their academic year. If the government plans on reopening schools in any area then the state should first issue specific guidelines on how to maintain physical distancing, number of school hours, maximum students in a class, use of sanitisers, mid-day meals, breaks and sports."
In addition, some state-board schools of Mumbai are serving as migrant shelter homes while, few others will be converted into quarantine centres with beds. Fr Frazer added, "If there is a huge spike in the number of cases then we will be compelled to use school spaces as quarantine centres because there are no beds in hospitals."