With schools in Maharashtra set to reopen next week (November 23), parents across the state are uncertain about sending their children to school. While the government has mandated strict guidelines to be followed by schools before and after resumption of classes IX-XII, parents are still questioning the government’s move and schools’ readiness in containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“On one hand, the government has been warning about a second wave of COVID-19 infections and yet it goes ahead and reopens schools. Also, the education minister Varsha Gaikwad had already announced the date for reopening of schools before asking students and parents to come forward with suggestions and opinions regarding the same. If the government really listened to parents, it would know that parents aren’t willing to risk their children’s lives,” says Nilesh Salunkhe, president of the Nashik Parents Association which has parents from 159 self-financed schools as its members.
Other parents’ associations representing Mumbai, Pune, Aurangabad, Nagpur and Thane districts too are against sending their wards to school. Parents cite media reports of teachers in states like Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand getting COVID-19 infected after schools reopened in those states.
The state government has issued standard operating procedured (SOP) that requires all schools to have sanitisers, thermal guns and pulse oximeters for daily testing of students. Schools are also expected to rearrange their seating arrangements to ensure effective social distancing. Students of classes IX to XII are expected to attend school on alternate days to ensure a 50 percent attendance ratio and school hours are to be limited to four hours with no lunch breaks, sports or extracurricular activities.
While school managements are expected to arrange for COVID-19 testing of all their teaching and non-teaching staff before schools reopen, the government has asked local civic authorities to conduct free testing in government-run testing centres for government school staff. However, the announcement of these measures means little to worried parents.
“This year, the Maharashtra government thought it right to hold a truncated winter session of the state’s assembly in Mumbai (beginning December 7) instead of the traditional venue – Nagpur, as a safety measure. However, the same ministers want our children to attend school where there is every chance of them coming in contact with an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier. The government needs to realise exposing one child to the virus puts the lives of all the family members at risk too.” says Jayshree Deshpande, president of Parents Association, Pune that has 2000 members. The association’s members are opposed to schools reopening until the use of vaccine is widespread and are planning a social media storm against the decision.
Parents are also opposed to the mandatory parents’ consent sought by schools. “Following the state government’s directive, schools are asking parents’ consent regarding their ward’s attendance. We believe, getting our consent is a ruse to absolve schools from any responsibility in case a child gets COVID-19 infected,” adds Salunkhe.
The Nashik Parents Association has already written to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray (November 18) asking the government to issue fresh directives regarding reopening of schools. Besides demanding that schools stop asking for parental consent, the association also wants schools to conduct free-of-charge COVID-19 testing of all students. It is also demanding the state education department to ensure no child is excluded from attending physical school for non-payment of tuition fees.
With the Bombay High Court having stayed (June 26) the state government’s resolution (May 8) prohibiting schools to raise or demand fees from parents for the current academic year while allowing parents to pay tuition fees in installments, complaints of schools denying students access to online classes due to non-payment of tuition fees has been on the rise.
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