In a major confidence-building step, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Friday gave the green signal to reopen a majority of the day-schools in the state, with restrictions, from October 4 onwards.
Accordingly, the school bells will ring for physical classes from October 4 for students of Classes 5 to 12 in rural areas, but only for Classes 8 to 12 in urban areas and cities – after an unprecedented break of 18 months when they were shut during the coronavirus pandemic and series of lockdowns.
School Education Minister, Prof Varsha Gaikwad said that the schools will be permitted to reopen only with strict adherence to all Covid-19 protocols, SOPs prepared by the Education Department in consultation with the Covid Paediatric Task Force, and other norms to ensure safety of the children.
While attendance will not be compulsory, parental assent will be mandatory for allowing their children to attend school, and depending on the numbers, schools may opt for either limited classes or alternate day classes.
Until now, physical classes were permitted in a limited way in only some districts which had low incidence of Covid-19, and online classes were conducted for all the rest.
However, residential or boarding schools across the state will remain shut till further orders, Gaikwad added.
Besides, activities like sports and games – where physical distancing is not possible – shall be banned for now and only classroom-related teaching activities shall be permitted.
The local administration in the districts and civic bodies have been advised and vested with powers to allow the schools to reopen in their jurisdictions after taking all due care, Gaikwad said.
All schools will prepare an isolation centre to handle any student who is detected Covid-19 positive, full vaccination is compulsory for all teaching as well as the non-teaching staff, and all protocols shall be stringently followed during the school hours.
The government has also suggested guidelines to be taken for the mental health of the students and even parents would be required to take certain precautions like immediately changing their uniforms, taking bath, etc.
Simultaneously, the government will launch a special awareness campaign urging students to return to schools, particularly those who did not attend due to the pandemic restrictions, said Gaikwad.
For Mumbai schools, the government is expected to take a decision on permitting teachers and non-teaching staff to travel by the suburban trains in view of the long commuting distances, often taking several hours.
Additionally, the authorities concerned will ensure local doctors are kept on standby to attend to students in case of any health issues.
The Minister added that as per a survey conducted by the government, nearly 70 per cent parents were in favour of reopening schools.