Parents apprehensive of sending kids back to schools after nine monthsMany schools in the Valley have resumed classes from Sunday but virologists say the move is risky.
Sumana Nainabasti sent her daughter Dishya Paudel back to school on Sunday, nine months after all educational institutions were closed amidst Covid-19 fears. She was worried at home throughout the day.
“I’ve been feeling restless ever since I sent my daughter to school. When she came back home in the evening, I was equally worried that she might be carrying the virus,” said 40-year-old Naniabasti.
After most of the local governments in the Valley gave permission to reopen educational institutions from Sunday onwards, many schools have resumed classes adopting strict health safety measures like maintaining social distance, conducting classes in two shifts and making masks compulsory inside the school premises.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City is yet to decide on whether to allow schools to reopen but many schools in the Valley have resumed classes nevertheless, claiming that they have adopted all the needed health protocols.
All schools and colleges were closed since March 18 last year to contain the spread of Covid-19.
“Although the school has announced that it is following health protocols strictly, my daughter needs to share the same toilet and water tap with others and this is very risky,” said a mother of a ninth grader in Tahachal. She is worried about her daughter, as she needs to prepare for the Secondary Education Examination next year. “I sent her to school so she can learn more, as her course has not gone smoothly in the past year.”
Like Nainabasti, Sumitra Timlesena of Pepsicola was equally worried about sending her 12-year-son to school.
“For the past nine months, we have all remained at home. Who will be responsible if my son contracts the virus,” said 36-year-old Timlesena. She said that her son’s health is of greater importance than education.
“The school had called us for a meeting earlier to discuss the reopening of classes. But many parents were reluctant to send their kids back to school so the school administration did not resume classes from Sunday,” she said. “But sooner or later, they will reopen classes and I do not feel like it’s safe for my son to attend classes until everyone is vaccinated.”
Not only Nainabasti and Timalsena but many parents across the Valley are worried and apprehensive over the decision of resuming schools.
In Humla, 32 students of a school tested positive for Covid-19 in November last year after the school decided to resume classes. Authorities had then decided to close all educational institutions in the district.
“Reopening schools is a very unwise decision,” said Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the Guardians Federation Nepal. “Except for the Kathmandu Metropolitan City office, all municipalities in the Valley have given permission to open schools. The situation is even more precarious outside the Valley.”
Bhandari said he, along with other concerned stakeholders, met with Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi last week to acknowledge the severity of the issue.
“Many schools have been pressuring the local bodies to allow them to resume classes,” he said. “The school administrations want to get money from the parents, as they could not do so while conducting online classes.”
Many private schools and a few government ones conducted online classes while the schools remained closed but the drive got widespread criticism, as many students from lower economic backgrounds could not attend such classes since they did not have access to laptops and internet facilities. The government last year had directed schools and colleges not to charge students for virtual classes but that order continues to be widely breached.
Meanwhile, the schools that resumed classes from Sunday say they did so after getting permission from the local body.
“We reopened after getting permission from Mahalaxmi Municipality,” said Ek Bahadur Bhandari, principal of Mahendra Adarsha Higher Secondary School in Imadol, Lalitpur. “We have allowed only two students to sit on a bench and are conducting classes in shifts or on alternate days.”
The school has 600 students. Bhandari said that his administration decided to reopen the school because most of the students could not attend the online classes conducted by them.
“We are equally worried about the transmission of the virus,” he said. “We have done everything to ensure that the students get a safe learning environment.”
However, virologists say that given the present scenario, there is a great risk at reopening schools.
“Parents are always sensitive when it comes to their kids and their health. So if schools are opening now, they should take extra precautions to ensure a safe virus-free environment,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku. “The local bodies that have given permission to reopen schools should check that each school is following health safety protocols,”
The Health Ministry two weeks ago had said that the second wave of Covid-19 infecion is inevitable in three weeks of time. Children are more likely to be infected in the second wave, according to reports by the BBC.
“If schools do not take extra precaution and are not sensitive enough, this will easily lead to the transmission of the virus among many families,” said Pun.