Apprehensive that a possible second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may hit the country mid-December, the Odisha government on Friday decided to keep schools across the state closed till December 31. The School and Mass Education (S&ME) department in a notification said: "… the state government does hereby direct that all schools in the state shall remain closed till 31 December, 2020." S&ME secretary Satyabrata Sahoo said the department held consultations with various stakeholders and their inputs were taken.
He also said the experience of the states where schools had reopened was taken before taking the decision to keep schools closed till December 31. Sahoo said that the second wave of COVID-19 cases being experienced in some states, was also noted.
However, notwithstanding closure of academic institutions, the S&ME department in the notification permitted conduct of examinations (academic competitive and entrance tests), evaluation and other administrative activities. It also said that online distance learning will be permitted and encouraged.
Teaching and non-teaching staff may be called to the schools for online teaching/ tele-counselling and related work, in areas outside the containment zones as per Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), the notification said. Earlier in the day, the S&ME minister Samir Ranjan Dash said that the state will not open schools for the students of class 8 to 12 from November 15 as decided earlier.
He said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has recently cautioned about a possible second wave in the second half of December. Therefore, the department refrained from opening the school from November 15. Dash, however, said that the department had already worked out a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for reopening the schools, but the pandemic situation does not favour campus activities.
The state government, as part its Unlock 6.0 guidelines announced on October 31, had said schools would be allowed to resume activities after November 15 for students of Classes 9 to 12, in a graded manner. The move to reverse the decision came after it was found that hundreds of students and teachers in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where classes for senior school students began on November 2, have contracted the viral disease.