The Centre’s guidelines also stipulate social distancing measures and regular sanitisation of school, besides requiring temperature check for all visiting school premise.
A survey in Haryana found that 85% of the parents of children studying in government schools were in favour of reopening—this may be due to limited access to online learning as many do not have smartphones or a stable internet connection. But, the Centre has done well to limit the reopening of schools only for Class IX-XII students in areas other than containment zones, and that too with strict restrictions. While online teaching is still supposed to be the norm, schools have been asked only to facilitate doubt clearing sessions for students whose parents are voluntarily willing to send them to school. The Centre’s guidelines also stipulate social distancing measures and regular sanitisation of school, besides requiring temperature check for all visiting school premise. The guidelines also point that only 50% of staff be present in schools and that students be divided into batches.
While the guidelines seem comprehensive and the Centre has tried to address most aspects of school reopening, it would do well to mandate random follow-up testing of staff and students. In this regard, the experience from the US and Israel are telling. In Israel, a resurgence of infections in July was directly linked to schools. While some states in the US allowed schools to reopen, the country found that nearly a lakh were infected within weeks of this announcement. In the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Indiana and Louisiana, schools had to be shut after students and staff were infected within a fortnight of reopening. Over five lakh children have been reported to have coronavirus infections in the US; nearly half have come in the last one month. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that between August 20 and September 3, 70,630 new child cases were reported in the country—an increase of 16% over two weeks.
India is still not allowing a complete reopening of schools like the US did, but with infections rising across the country, the risk of children getting infected and carrying the pathogen to the schools is undoubtedly high. So, the administration would do well to randomly test those opting to go to schools and create a mechanism for contact tracing. With a JAMA Pediatric study indicating that younger children are likely to be drivers of Covid-19 spread in the general population, and another study linking SARS-CoV-2 infection to cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, India has to be careful and scientific about its reopening strategy. The state governments will need to keep a record of infection among children, especially the school-goers. Unless there is enough data to show that reopening is safe, it will be better to hold off further reopening. Instead, the government would do better to use this opportunity to provide digital aids to students apart from working on improving their dexterity with online education tools.