The Union government on Thursday said that states would be allowed to decide on reopening schools. But doctors, who have children themselves, say that they would rather let their children skip one year of schooling than send them to school where their children are likely to get infected with the coronavirus. Managements of private schools, too, are apprehensive about reopening schools as the state governments have not provided any clarity on how schools would operate.
Dr Pratap Chandra, a Consultant Neonatologist and Paediatrician at Motherhood Hospitals in Bengaluru, has two children studying in classes 2 and 6 at the National Academy For Learning. He says that they have three hours of online classes every day, which he feels is a better option than reopening schools. Dr Pratap maintains that while studies show that most children are asymptomatic, he witnesses at least three cases every day where children with symptoms like Kawasaki disease (rashes on mouth and body) and also those with gastroenteritis are turning out to have COVID-19.
One of the major concerns, he says is, that children cannot maintain physical distance effectively if they are in classrooms. Further, if schools reopen and children have to travel by school buses, the concept of physical distancing would once again be hard to follow.
"Not all parents can drop their children to school and pick them up. Besides, the government has not given any clarity on what should be done if a child tests positive for the coronavirus. How will schools enforce the rule that children should wear masks? How will they ensure that children do not develop respiratory illnesses by wearing masks for a long time? How will physical distancing be enforced? If a child tests positive, will the school be shut? None of this is clear yet. I would rather schools continue online classes," he says.
He further states that he would rather his children skip one year of schooling than get infected by the coronavirus. As a doctor on COVID-19 duty, he says that at a stretch, Bengaluru has 75-100 ICU beds and if schools reopen, there would definitely be hundreds of children who would test positive as the number of cases are increasing in the city.
"When there are so many children, and beds are less, where will they be housed? There will be more burden on hospitals. If a child tests positive then he or she will be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Is our health sector organised enough to treat so many children? I would say it is not. When there is a shortage of beds, how will the government accommodate children? What is the advantage of sending children to schools? Parents will be worried all the time. Doctors' burden is huge and on top of it, this will be another burden. It will cause major disruption to the entire community," he adds.
Dr Vijayalakshmi, a first year post graduate doctor from Trichy says that she would not send her children to school if they are reopened as she does not want to run the risk of them getting infected. "I have two children in classes 5 and 9. They are very keen on going to school but it is not at all safe. I have told my children that if schools reopen, I will fight with the management and ensure there are online classes. If this, too, does not work, then I would prefer if they skip one year. Their lives are more important than going to school," Dr Vijayalaksmi adds.
Dr Pratap maintains that children are likely to spread the infection quicker than adults and if one child in a classroom of 30 or 40 students tests positive, it would create panic among parents. "We are doctors and we are overburdened with COVID-19 duty. If I have to send my child to school, then I will be additionally worried. Now Dasara and Christmas holidays are coming up in October and December. In April and May next year there will be summer vacation. Why take any drastic steps for just a few months? This should be decided once there is a clearer picture regarding a vaccine," he says.
What private schools say
Speaking to TNM, Shashi Kumar, President of the Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka, maintains that private schools are unhappy with the government's method of handling the situation. Shashi Kumar alleges that the government is discriminating between children of private and public schools by allowing government schools to operate in several districts even though reopening schools was not permitted.
"As of now most government schools have reopened and are functioning within their premises and are in violation of the Disaster Management Act. But when private schools requested reopening for classes 9 to 12, the government was not doing that. Under the Vidya Gama Yojane, teachers have to go to students' houses and urge them to continue education. Instead of doing this, they are holding classes in government school playgrounds in many districts. Even private schools have been operating illegally. This should stop and children must be protected," he adds.
He further says that the state government must issue a detailed standard operating procedure for schools. He says that a certain amount of responsibility must be borne by the parents, and schools cannot be held responsible if children test positive.
"There is no clarity on what the strength of a classroom should be. Whether we should conduct classes for two to three hours in batches. What is the procedure if a child tests positive? We are fine with running online classes but when schools are violating norms and we point this out to the government, no action is taken. We are only asking the government to come up with a strategy to reopen schools, which it has not done since seven months," Shashi Kumar says.