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Manipur Government Undecided on Partial Reopening of Schools for Students of Classes 9 to 12 from September 21

Although the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) have issued guidelines and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in separate orders for partial reopening of schools for students of 9 to 12 classes on a voluntary basis, for taking guidance from their teachers, the Government of Manipur says it is not ready yet for reopening of schools from September 21.

Even amidst the surge of COVID-19 transmission and deaths, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for partial reopening of schools for students of classes 9 to 12 on voluntary basis, for taking guidance from their teachers has been issued on September 8 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Directorate General of Health Services (EMR Division) of Government of India since India’s Unlock 4.0 has been put in place from September 1. This partial reopening of schools for certain activities would be allowed from September 21, 2020.

This is following the guidelines issued for Phased Reopening (Unlock 4.0) under Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 29th August 2020. The MHA guidelines state that the “States/UTs may permit up to 50 percent teaching and non-teaching staff to be called to the schools at a time for online/tele-counselling and related work, in areas outside the containment zones only, with effect from 21st September 2020 for which, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will be issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW).”

Subsequent guideline stresses, “Students of classes 9 to 12 may be permitted to visit their schools, in areas outside containment zones only, on voluntary basis, for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to written consent of their parents/guardians and will be permitted with effect from 21st September, 2020 for which SOP will be issued by MOHFW.”

Besides generic preventive measures, the final SOP says that all schools with classes 9 to 12 shall specifically ensure two arrangements. One, online/distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged. Two, Students of classes 9 to 12 shall be permitted to visit their school on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers. This will be subject to written consent of their parents/guardians. Such visits and teacher-student interaction must be organised in a staggered manner.

Some of the SOPs among others state that schools outside the containment zones only shall be allowed to reopen. Further, students, teachers and employees living in containment zones will not be allowed to attend the school. Students, teachers and employees shall also be advised not to visit areas falling within containment zones. Prior to resumption of activities, all work areas intended for teaching/demonstrations etc., including laboratories, other common utility areas shall be sanitized with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution, with particular attention to frequently touched surfaces. Schools that were used as quarantine centres will be properly sanitized and deep cleaned before partial functioning is resumed.

The concerned teaching and non-teaching employees (up to 50 percent of the strength) may be called to schools for online teaching/tele-counselling and related works.

Notably, the SOP of the MOHFW for partial reopening of schools among others include a number of sections – Planning of reopening of school before opening up of the school; Planning and scheduling of activities; Availability and management of supplies; After reopening of the schools conduct of guidance activities in the rooms or open spaces within the school campus; Conduct of skill based training in workshops/laboratories; Activities in common areas – library, mess/canteen, common rooms, gymnasium etc.; Transportation to and from the institution; Hygiene and sanitation; Risk communication; Psycho-social wellbeing; SOP to be followed in case a student/teacher/employee develops symptoms like fever, cough, difficulty in breathing – under which SOP details are given.

According to the guidelines and SOPs of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), schools having classes 9 to 12 in other states are now prepared to reopen the schools following these guidelines and SOPs.

However, the Government of Manipur is not ready yet for partial reopening of the schools from September 21. Manipur Education Minister Thokchom Radheshyam told media persons on September 11, “The state government has not decided yet to open schools from September 21 as of now and spreading rumours without proper understanding may create chaos for the students and parents.”

“There are doubts and confusion among the people due to miscommunication. The Directorate General of Health Services of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (EMR Division) issued an SOP on September 8 for partial reopening of schools for students of classes 9 to 12 on a voluntary basis for taking guidance from their teachers in the context of COVID-19. But the Union Ministry Home Affairs and Ministry of Education will issue SOP and the state government will decide on whether to open the schools both government and private or not,” said Radheshyam.

The Education Minister further stated that discussions are on regarding which class will open first at which kind of schools as some schools have large numbers of students while some don’t have much.

Further, the Education Minister Thokchom Radheshyam told media persons, “The department has been discussing with various stakeholders and student bodies about the opening of schools. The Education department in consultation with the Chief Minister will prepare another SOP for Manipur. School authorities both private and government should not open until the state government issues a new SOP.”

Here, it is pertinent to ask a few questions – Why should not the Government of Manipur decide to reopen schools even partially for students of classes 9 to 12 from September 21 for taking guidance from their teachers while other states of India are already prepared for it? Why should not the Government of Manipur adopt the SOP already issued by the MHA and MOHFW regarding partial reopening of schools for classes 9 to 12 from September 21 while NEET Examination can be held following certain SOP in the context of COVID-19? Will not the Manipur students of classes 9 to 12 lag behind their compatriots while the rest of India adopts for partial opening of schools from September 21?

Considering the ways and the action being taken up by the National Testing Agency (NTA) and Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), it can also be observed that the NTA and CBSE will hold its annual examinations even though there is no real teaching-learning process for more than five months due to the COVID-19 lockdown. There is also no sign of postponing the academic session. Therefore, it will be wise for the state government to decide to save the students’ career by following the SOP of the MHA and MOHFW as we have to learn to live with COVID-19.

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