Schools Reopen! Are We Ready for the New Normal?

As a part of the Unlock 4.0 phase, schools in India are all set to reopen after being locked for more than five months. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has officially released the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for schools reopening across the country. Although the schools are not going to function completely, only the higher secondary classes (9-12) are set to resume its operation from September 21. Also, considering the unabated rise in COVID-19 infection getting back to schools would solely be a voluntary process that demands the students to take their parents or guardians' consent before rejoining their schools, and of course, social distancing would be strictly practiced in the school premises.

SOPs Guidelines for School
The SOPs guidelines have put across a lot of restrictions to ensure safety precautionary. At every circumstance, the school administration should strictly follow a six-feet distance and every individual have to wear face masks until they are inside the school premises. Also, teachers and students should wash their hands frequently, the MHA has further advised using alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever possible to maintain personal hygiene basic etiquettes such as distancing and covering one's mouth while sneezing or coughing also adds to it. The SOPs have also insisted to install Aarogya Setu App and use it to keep the infection spread under check.

The guidelines also instruct the schools to set the air conditioning devices in the range of 24 - 30 degrees Celcius, while relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70 percent and the fresh air intake should and cross ventilation has to be adequate. Most importantly, before resuming the classes in other work areas such as laboratories and other utility areas shall be sanitized with one percent sodium hypochlorite solution, with close attention paid to frequently touched surfaces.

However, other school activities such as sports, assemblies, events, and more which indulge huge gatherings are strictly prohibited. Further, stationary sharing among students is also a strict no-no. The SOP further suggests the school administration conduct the classes with separate time slots and in the open area whenever feasible considering the weather condition.

Is Social Distancing Possible at Schools
To practice, the instructed guidelines such as social distance in schools are quite challenging. As implementing, these measures would require some basic infrastructures. According to DISE statistics, about 53,533 schools in India have only one classroom for the entire school. However, in 19 percent of schools the student classroom ratio (STR) is more than 35 and in 8.3 percent of schools which would be 1.3 lakh schools could accommodate 50 students in one classroom.

In some schools, the classes are conducted in a combined state where the students of different classes sit in the same classroom. But, the ideal STR has to be over 35:1. With this condition, it would certainly be a tough task for schools to maintain social distancing. Thus, the school administration could consider cutting down the total school strength to 30 percent at a time and ensure to provide basic and most crucial facilities like sanitation, drinking water, and handwashing area.

Though frequent hand washing is the precautionary measure of COVID-19, about 45 percent of schools in India do not have any hand wash facility. However, implementing Swachh Vidyalaya Abhiyan, has brought in separate toilets for boys and girls has touched 87 and 93 percent respectively and nearly 52 percent of schools qualify by possing clean drinking water and functional toilets.

Measures Teachers & Students Could Take for the New Normal
The teachers may have undergone various training before taking up their job. But, certainly, no programs would have prepared them for the present scenario. But, practice is an ideal coach. Hence, school authorities should ensure regular sanitization is carried out throughout the school premises. Also, they could add wearing masks and frequent hand washes as new rules to the existing school rules. Additionally, regular checkup and restricting the entry of ill teachers and students would aid the schools to keep the infection under check.

Likewise, teachers could also take the responsibility of the classes they are handling and instruct the student to students to strictly follow personal hygiene and social distancing and ensure students follow it. Furthermore, teachers could also check if any student is found ill are should inform the school management and take necessary measures.

Students, on the other hand, should follow the instruction given by the school authorities and teachers. Until things get back to normal, students have to keep their playfulness and follow social distancing and grow up as responsible citizens. Therefore, continuous practice of the SOPs guidelines and emphasizing students to practice it as well would ensure safe learning.