In several areas, schools have reopened with rigorous coronavirus precautions in place. Students will now physically attend classes in states such as Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu. In light of the pandemic, precautionary measures such as physical separation, staggered lunch breaks, obligatory masks for instructors and children, and the use of sanitizers have been implemented. Still, parents are apprehensive about sending their children to school.
In a conversation with Medically Speaking, a parent put forth his concern regarding the reopening of schools saying, “Experts foresee a third wave, but how can parents expect their children, who are most likely in elementary school or even high school, to send their children to such a situation? When it comes to third wave, the school faculties are also a little sceptical.”
He said, “What assurance do you have that the SOPs will be followed in the schools? How can I expect a nursery child to maintain social distance or a KG child to ensure that his or her tiffin is not shared with anyone? There is no transportation provided by any of the schools, which causes a great deal of hardship for parents. What about that?”
Dr Smita Malhotra, Senior Consultant, Pediatrics from Apollo Hospital, answers, “Let us also keep in mind that everything must be viewed in context. We can’t pick and choose which of our fears to deal with. You’ve all seen the images from when we first launched tourist destinations like Manali, when restaurants were completely booked. We are up and about when we have to enjoy it, but we are anxious when it comes to school. Everyone is attending meetings, parties, and get-togethers to celebrate festivals. In life, there is always a risk-benefit ratio that must be considered. Currently, the statistics are constantly low. So if not now, then when? This is the moment when we must go outside; it is an opportunity for us to witness what occurs. It’s always a dynamic scenario, where we can always close back down if there’s a surge.”
“As we all know, children are susceptible to a variety of anxiety disorders, it is quite tough to persuade them to follow the procedures, and they must attend school for 6-7 hours, which is an extremely long period of time. We need to come up with some ways that are both practical and offer a reasonable level of safety. For example, if we have to instruct them to wear a mask at least when they are in class with each other and not on the playground, where they may be separated, they must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth,” said Dr Krishnan Chugh, Principal Director, HOD, Pediatrics from Fortis, Gurgaon.
He added, “After each period, we need to give them a 10-minute break so they may remove their mask, take a big breath, put it back on, and return to class. The other is that there should not be as many children in the class as there were previously, which implies that if a class previously had 40 desks, we should now limit it to 20 or even less.”
According to Dr Chugh, “India is a massive nation. What is true in Delhi may not be true in Kerala, where the second wave is still ongoing. We will have a solid notion of what needs be done till Diwali when we open schools while keeping our children secure. The schools should thereafter be shut for at least 3 to 4 weeks to assess the impact of the Diwali celebrations, and then reopened if no spike is seen.”
While talking about whether the schools should start offline classes for 6th standard onwards, Dr Malhotra explained, “I believe we should reopen because we are seeing a lot of youngsters with a variety of health problems as a result of being locked indoors for over a year and a half. We’ve seen a lot of kids with psychiatric difficulties, weight issues, and stomach concerns that aren’t caused by anything organic. They have a lot of problems, so they need to go on with their life, and I believe that youngsters, as we all know, have the lesser sickness and that the people around them are fully vaccinated.”
In contrast to this, Dr Shuchin Bajaj, Founder of Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals mentions, “Since everything else has reopened, we’ve already passed the deadline for reopening. We’ve already seen that children in Delhi have a nearly 60% sero positivity rate, so we’re confident that they’ll have a mild disease. However, as you pointed out, everyone around these children, whether teachers, sports staff, or parents, needs to be vaccinated as soon as possible, because the pre- and post-covid eras will be very different. We need to educate kids how to follow covid protocols once they enter school.”
In assurance to the parents’ anxiety, Dr Bajaj said, “Unfortunately, we are overlooking the fact that the great majority of Indians do not have access to all of these resources, resulting in a significant digital gap. We are overlooking all of the students who do not have access to phones or other digital gadgets in order to attend class. We’re overlooking those who only have one smartphone at home and their father to take it to work. I simply want to comfort parents who are worried that if their children can carry the virus home, so can you.”
“If you don’t go out, if you don’t work, if you stay at home all the time, it’s reasonable to expect your children to do the same, but if you go to the office, to parties, and then expect your children to stay at home because there’s a risk of them contracting the virus, that’s completely unreasonable. Even if you are concerned, rest assured that all schools will make it voluntary for you. It is not mandatory for you to send your children to offline lessons, but please enable children who require a physical environment, are developing psychological difficulties, are obese, or are losing confidence to do so,” he added.