Community schools in Baglung demand for handover of classrooms requisitioned for Covid-19 managementLocal governments say the coronavirus threat is still not over and they may need the school buildings to quarantine and isolate people.
The government in the last week of July decided to stop using public school buildings as Covid-19 quarantine and isolation centres. In line with this decision, a Cabinet meeting on July 31 directed the local governments across the country to decontaminate the requisitioned buildings and hand them over to the respective schools. However, many local governments in Baglung have yet to initiate the handover process.
The concerned schools, meanwhile, have not been able to start their preparations for the new academic year.
Tribhuwan Secondary School in Ward No. 2 of Badigad Rural Municipality was converted into a quarantine facility, which housed 350 individuals during the lockdown.
Currently, there are no occupants at the facility.
The school has asked the rural municipality to hand over the school building. But Mehar Singh Paija,,the rural municipality chairman, said the coronavirus threat remains in the district and the local unit may need the school building to quarantine people again.
“With the increase in public movement and the rising number of coronavirus cases across the country, we anticipate the arrival of more people in the district,” he said. “We may have to use the school building to quarantine the new arrivals. We can’t risk sending people home without quarantining them.”
The rural municipality has, however, started cleaning and disinfecting the school’s premises and classrooms, said Paija.
The school management, meanwhile, is at a loss over its next move.
“The federal government has postponed the academic year until further notice but we plan to run classes as soon as it’s safe to do so,” said Dhalmani Bhandari, the school headmaster. “We have already requested the local body to disinfect the school premises and handover the school to us. The local government’s indecisiveness has put us in a fix.”
According to Bhandari, the school has been running classes by setting up 15 learning centres in different places of the rural municipality.
“We don’t want students to miss a year of their academic learning. So we have been running classes through learning centres,” Bhandari said.
In Dhorpatan Municipality, the local government has set up a quarantine facility in the building of Shivalaya Secondary School in Ward No. 5. The building is currently vacant but the municipal office has not shown any interest in handing over the school, according to the school administration.
Ten local units in Baglung, in coordination with concerned authorities of the district, had set up quarantine facilities in 213 community schools with the capacity of accommodating 2,100 people. According to the District Health Office, around 100 people are currently staying in various quarantine facilities.
According to the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, around 2,000 public schools are currently being used as quarantine centres and isolation facilities across the country.
The people's representatives and health officials in Baglung are of the view that it is too early to hand over the school buildings, as the arrival of migrant workers from India and other countries has not stopped.
"We know that the number of returnees is comparatively lower than what it was in the previous months. But we expect more people to return from foreign countries soon,” said Ram Prasad Khanal, chief at the health unit of Baglung Municipality. “We have to keep them in quarantine as a preventive measure and the municipality has no other option but to continue using the school buildings.”
According to the District Police Office, although there has been no new arrival from foreign countries in the past week, the flow of people entering Baglung from neighbouring districts has not stopped.
“Around 150 people enter Baglung from the neighbouring districts daily,” said Inspector Dipak Rijal.
Six hotels in Baglung Bazaar, the district headquarters, are also being used as paid quarantine facilities.
In the first week of July, when the number of coronavirus infections in the district was at its highest, the district administration had set up isolation wards at Dhaulagiri Multiple Campus and Deaf Residential School in Baglung Bazaar.
According to the Social Development Ministry of Gandaki Province, though Baglung currently has manageable cases of Covid-19, the number of patients could rise in the future, which could require the need for the school and college buildings to quarantine and isolate patients.
Dhaulagiri Multiple Campus has not been able to run its classes for BBA, BBS and MBS students in accordance with the academic calendar of Tribhuvan University because the college building is being used as an isolation centre.
“We haven’t been able to run classes and this has put the students’ academic future at risk. We are currently running online classes but they haven’t proven to be very effective,” said Ram Prasad Upadhayay, the campus chief. “This was supposed to be a short-term arrangement.”
He added that the government has not bothered to seek a long-term alternative to manage and treat Covid-19.
The Education Development and Coordination Unit in Baglung has also urged the authorities concerned to remove quarantine and isolation facilities from educational institutions.
"We cannot put off classes forever. The local, provincial and federal governments need to come up with a suitable solution,” said Kushmaraj Upadhyay, chief at the Education Development and Coordination Unit,.