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Standard operating procedures for reopening of schools

Author: Gaurav Shanker, Managing Partner And Yamini Mishra, Associate |

Article by Business Law Chamber

The Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education, on 5th October, 2020 issued Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)/guidelines for reopening of schools. This has been issued by the Central Government as per para -1 of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) order no. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 30.09.2020 for reopening, States/UT Governments may take a decision in respect of reopening of schools and coaching institutions after 15.10.2020 in a graded manner in consultation with the respective schools/institutions management and based on local situation.

The SOP has been issued in continuation to the MHA and health ministry's SOPs, providing guidelines on resuming the academic activity along with new administrative rules. These guidelines consist of two parts which focus on the following aspects:

Part I: Health and safety

From implementation of thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas to forming task teams in schools such as emergency care support, hygiene inspection team, etc., the SOP provides for mandatory measures concerning necessary health and hygiene to be maintained by schools.

Following the health ministry's SOPs, wearing face masks is mandatory for all students and staff, especially when in class, or doing any activity in groups.

As per these guidelines, schools must maintain physical / social distancing while planning the seating plan and shall display signages and markings for enforcing safety protocols at adequate places. Functions and events are to be avoided. The schools will have to accordingly plan for academic calendar changes for all classes, breaks and exams while ensuring that all students have access to prescribed textbooks before school reopens.

Part I further provides as under:

  • The schools will sensitize students, parents, teachers, community members and hostel staff on COVID-19 related challenges.
  • To take care of physical and mental health of the students, the schools shall ensure availability of a full-time trained health care attendant/nurse/doctor and counsellor.
  • Regular health check-up of students and teachers may be organized and adequate information should be collected from students, parents and teachers concerning their health status.
  • In order to encourage students and staff to stay at home when sick, flexible attendance and sick leave policies may be developed and implemented.
  • In case of detection of a suspected case of COVID-19, actions will be taken as per the protocol defined.
  • The schools are required to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable students (homeless/migrated students, students with disabilities, and students directly affected by Covid-19 through a family death or hospitalization).
  • To meet the nutritional requirements of children and safeguard their immunity during the COVID-19 outbreak, States / Union Territories are advised to provide mid-day meal or its equivalent food security allowance to eligible children during closure of schools and summer vacations.

Furthermore, the SOP states that the States/Union Territories should take the consent of parents/guardians before their child/ward begins attending schools. Students willing to study from home with the consent of the parents may be allowed to do so.

Part II: Learning and delivery of education

This part of the SOP relates to the academic aspects such as curriculum transactions, timetables, assessment, etc. and is advisory in nature. States & Union Territories may use these in the manner deemed fit to prepare their own guidelines/SOP.

The guidelines provide that the schools may make a comprehensive alternative calendar of activities for the whole year with a focus on learning outcomes, in accordance with the emerging situation. Post-reopening of schools, reintegration of students may be taken on priority.

Teachers will have a major role to play for the implementation of this part. Keeping physical/social distancing and other safety norms in mind, divergent use of teaching resources shall have to be relied upon. These resources could include peer teaching and learning, use of workbooks and worksheets, use of technology-based resources in class, etc. To orient teachers and students in this regard, PRAGYATA guidelines on digital education can be used.

Part II further provides as under:

  • If the State/ Union Territories has Energized Textbooks (ETB), the schools will inform students and parents how to download the e-content behind the QR on DIKSHA, codes and use the same in offline mode, thereon.
  • To ensure achievement of learning goals by all learners, the teachers, parents, and administrators need to focus on formative assessment. Guidelines of SCERT/NCERT may be used to sensitize parents to improve their understanding of and appreciation for formative assessment.
  • The teachers, school counselors and school health workers should work in unison to ensure emotional safety of their students. ‘MANODARPAN’ covers a wide range of activities to provide psychosocial support to students, teachers and families for mental health and emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond.
  • The education departments of the State/ Union Territories may conduct awareness and capacity building programmes for District Institute for Education and Training (DIET) faculty members, school heads, teachers, and parents before the opening of the schools.

Moreover, schools are encouraged to make their own SOPs based on the guidelines issued by States/ Union Territories, keeping in view the safety and physical/social distancing norms, and ensuring that the notices/posters/messages/communication to parents in this regard are prominently displayed/disseminated.

While, Unlock 5.0 guidelines permit reopening of schools, many states have decided to keep schools closed till October 31, 2020. From the publicly available information the State of Uttar Pradesh has decided to reopen schools from October 15, 2020, however, other states including Delhi, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have decided not to reopen schools till October end.