COVID-19: HRD ministry begins consultations on reopening schools, safety of students

New Delhi, Jun 8 (PTI) The HRD ministry on Monday began consultation with states and other stakeholders on reopening of schools which have been closed since March due to COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meeting chaired by Secretary School Education, Anita Karwal, the state education secretaries also deliberated upon health and safety of students, hygiene measures in schools and issues regarding online and digital education.

Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' said the suggestions will be examined and sent to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Home Affairs.

'Obtained valuable suggestions from state governments regarding issues related to school education. Our priority has always been the safety and security of students and teachers,' the minister said in a tweet.

'The suggestions received will be examined and sent to the @MoHFW_INDIA and Ministry of Home Affairs for appropriate actions regarding framing guidelines for education sector during COVID-19 times,' he said in another tweet.

According to ministry officials, suggestions received from states included staggered classes, non compulsion of maintaining attendance, calling students on alternative days and a flexible plan to be able to avoid any exigencies.

'The government is clear on one part that nothing will be rushed without proper consultations and students' safety will be the top priority while making any decision,' an official said.

'However, it is early to decide on when schools will reopen, consultations have begun. A final decision will be taken by MHA in this regard and states will also have to keep the COVID-19 situation in mind,' the official said.

'Among the issues that were discussed included preparedness for the opening of schools, what kind of arrangements will be made by the administration for the health and safety of students, and the hygiene measures in schools,” the official added.

Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16, when the Centre announced a countrywide classroom shutdown as part of a slew of measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

A 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, which came into effect the next day. While the government has announced easing of certain restrictions, schools and colleges continue to remain closed.

The government had on May 30 announced phase-wise easing of restrictions, while the lockdown will continue in containment zones till June 30.

It said schools, colleges and coaching institutes will be opened after consultation with states and UTs.

'State governments and UT administrations may hold consultations at the institution level with parents and other stakeholders. Based on the feedback, a decision on reopening of these institutions will be taken in the month of July,' the home ministry had said.

However, the announcement has rung alarm bells among parents who believe the move will be unsafe.

More than 4 lakh parents from across the country petitioned the government demanding that schools should not be reopened unless the COVID-19 situation improves or a vaccine is ready.

According to the health ministry, the coronavirus toll rose to 7,200 with 271 more deaths and the number of infections climbed to 2,56,611 in India on Monday after a record single-day spike of 9,983 cases.

The country registered more than 9,000 cases of coronavirus for the fifth day in a row on Monday. PTI GJS RHL