In a week, schools in Kerala will once again open its gates for students, for offline classes, over a year after the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. While classes for students from standard 1 to 7, Plus one and Plus Two, will start from November 1, classes for other students will commence from November 15. Though the state government has announced that digital classes will also parallely continue with the offline classes, many parents who talked to TNM earlier, had expressed their concerns about the safety of sending their children to schools during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the General Education Department has put out a detailed standard operating procedure on how school will be functioning while reopening classes.
From the steps taken to ensure that there will not be crowding in schools, to procedures involved in case a student tests positive for coronavirus, the SOP details various aspects of managing the schools. Here are some of the important guidelines of the SOP.
Who all are allowed to come to school
Firstly, no students will be compelled to attend offline classes and those students who wish to go to schools, should do so with parental permission. Students who are sick or those who are living with any disabilities are advised not to attend offline classes in the initial phase.
If the school has a total strength of more than 1,000 students, classes should be arranged in such a way that only 25% of the total student population should only be present at a time in the campus.
Bio bubble system
Each class will be divided into different batches -- which will be considered as bio bubbles -- of students based on the total number of students in the class. Each bio bubble will have 6 to 10 students. Classes will be arranged in such a manner that students of one bio bubble will not come into close contact with students of other bio bubbles. The SOP recommends that students hailing from a particular locality should be grouped in the same bio bubble. A final decision on this can be taken by the schools after consultation with parents.
During the first two weeks of reopening, classes will be held till noon. Inside classrooms, only two students are allowed to sit on a bench.
Students will not be allowed to crowd inside and outside the classroom, sit together and eat food or take part in school assembly.
Students will be advised not to share food, water and other belongings with each other.
Students should visit schools only on the time allotted to them.
Monitoring health issues
The SOP has pointed out that all teaching and non-teaching staff of the schools have to be administered both the doses of COVID-19 vaccination.
As soon as the schools open, a health check up will be held in association with Health Department for the students and staff.
All schools are supposed to form a 12 member School Health Monitoring Committee comprising of Principal, PTA member, ward member of the local body, ASHA worker, Junior health Inspector etc. This committee will be responsible for ensuring COVID-19 protocol is followed in the school.
Other responsibilities of the committee include conduct weekly meetings, create a sick room in the school to monitor children with symptoms, have to be in touch with the local health workers, and giving daily reports to the health department on the health situation of the school -- including details of those staff and students with symptoms, those who tested positive for coronavirus etc. Such reports will be compiled district wise and will be sent once in a week to the public education director and health director for monitoring.
What happens if a student/staff is found to have COVID-19
If a student or staff member exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, their details should be entered in a separate register, which should be kept for the same. The details of such students or staff will be passed onto the nearest health centre. Those who show symptoms will also be made to undergo COVID-19 tests.
If a student is found to have the disease, the students of the bio bubble in which the positive students belongs, should be isolated. The details of the students should be handed over to health department. The School Health Monitoring Committee will initiate in making the contact list of the positive person.
Sanitation and other guidelines
In order to ensure more safety, after schools are reopened, no one other than students, staff and selected Parent-Teachers Association (PTA) members, who have taken both doses of vaccination, will be allowed inside the school premises.
Soap and water should be arranged for students inside the school premises. Students should frequently wash their hands with soap and water and use face masks while in school. Those students using public transportation, should use double masks and carry sanitisers.
Classrooms should be sanitized daily, meanwhile toilets should be sanitized multiple times during the day.
Students should bring drinking water from their homes. If drinking water facilities are arranged in schools, disposable paper cups should be used.