Children returning to school should be empathised: Experts

Maharashtra: Aided schools ask government to bear SOP expenses

October 1, 2021
-Dipta Joshi

Even as the schools are expected to reopen physically in Maharashtra from October 4 onwards, the state’s 30,000 private aided schools are struggling to meet the pre-opening protocols issued by the education department due to the lack of funds. The state government has asked school managements to use funds available with them to provide for all Covid related sanitization needs. However, vernacular-medium, budget private schools say they are cash-strapped and cannot reopen schools without financial support from the government.

The state’s education minister, Varsha Gaikwad announced (on September 24) the government’s decision to allow reopening of in-class schooling for grades VIII-XII in urban areas and grades V-VII in rural areas (earlier in July, the government had already allowed schools in rural areas to take physical classes for grades VIII-XII). However, to ensure schools don’t become hubs of COVID infection, the state’s education department mandated a list of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by schools. All schools need to ensure their teaching and non-teaching staff undergo the RTPCR tests and are vaccinated. Schools have been asked to keep ample supplies of oximeters and thermometers for daily testing, stock of COVID medicines, face masks, sodium hypochlorite as a disinfectant for school sanitisation and even a medical clinic within the school premises if possible. It further stated, “…school managements could dip into the CSR funds or collect funds through public contribution to ensure availability of these items.”

Private aided schools, however, have been facing a severe financial crisis after the closure of schools in the state since the lockdown ensuing the pandemic in March 2020. Charging negligible fees (some even as low as Rs 1000 annually), private aided schools depend on the state government’s grant to pay teacher’s salaries. Most of these schools also depend on corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds disbursed by business houses to fund specific projects.

According to schools, not only have all CSR funding dried up since the first lockdown but the government too stopped paying them teacher’s salary grant since then. Thus private aided schools are in no position to spend funds to meet the various SOPs mandated by the state government.

“While schools are keen on reopening, there are few who can afford the sanitisation-related expenses on their own. Each time the government announced a possible date for reopening of schools, private aided schools spent money on sanitising their schools thus spending the precious little they had. The government cannot ignore its responsibility towards private aided schools by asking them to use CSR funds when it is well aware that CSR funds, even when available, are disbursed for specific projects only. Ensuring a Covid-free environment in the school is a recurring cost. The government has already promised to pay for schools administered by it and it must also pay for schools it pays grants to,” says Mahendra Ganpule, Ex-President of Pune Headmaster’s Association and former state speaker of Headmaster’s Mahamandal.

Schools that had earlier resumed in-class schooling in November 2020 had to close down when the second wave of pandemics struck. It is only since July 15 this year, that the government allowed the conditional reopening of schools in areas where cases of Coronavirus are negligible. 

Also read: Maharashtra: Covid-19 task force not in favour of reopening schools until Diwali

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