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Maharashtra to Reopen Schools From January 24 in Areas With Fewer Coronavirus Cases

Schools allowed to reopen from January 24 across Maharashtra (Representational Image)

Schools allowed to reopen from January 24 across Maharashtra (Representational Image)

Maharashtra has adopted a decentralised approach where the local administrations will have the right to take a call on basis of the covid-19 situation in their area.

The Maharashtra government has accepted the proposal submitted by the School Education Department to reopen schools. Classes from primary to higher secondary will be allowed to attend physical schools from January 24. The schools, however, will only reopen in areas with a low Covid count. Maharashtra has adopted a decentralised approach where the local administrations will have the right to take a call on basis of the covid-19 situation in their area.

The state has taken a u-turn on its earlier decision. Maharashtra had first announced to shut schools till February 15, however, after demand from parents and students for reopening, the state has now decided to resume the on-campus classes again. Schools have been shut since mid-March on an on-off basis due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The classes are being held online, however, students have reported heavy learning losses.

Read | Not Opening Schools Bigger Risk, Says UNICEF Urging Govts to Resume In-Person Classes

Maharashtra School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad said that schools will reopen for classes 1 to 12 amid strict Covid-19 protocols from January 24. “CM has agreed to our proposal,” Gaikwad was quoted as saying by ANI.

Schools in Maharashtra were closed in the first week of January due to a spike in the coronavirus cases and in the wake of the emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant. However, a number of parents, activists in the field as well as teachers had strongly opposed the move to shut the schools, saying it would adversely affect the students.

In Mumbai, the local civic body had announced the closure of schools for Classes 1 to 9 till January 31. However, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) assessment had indicated that the cases of Omicron infection are not on the rise, and it had said that the curve was flattening. It prompted the officials to propose the reopening of schools for physical attendance.

“Our SOPs are very strict and clear. We have given four days of advance notice to the management of schools to undertake vaccination and sanitisation and for preparation of time-table. The timing and other necessary decisions will be taken by the local authorities, such as district collector or municipal commissioner based on the local situations,” Gaikwad said. On Wednesday, she had said that a proposal to reopen the schools in the state had been sent to the chief minister for his approval.

Meanwhile, Bhau Chaskar, a senior activist in the education sector, said, “It was an unfair decision to shut the schools when malls and restaurants were kept open. It is imperative for children, especially for the students of Classes 1 to 4 to develop learning skills, social bonding, which happens only when you attend classes in person.” Children who are deeply affected due to the prolonged suspension of physical attendance in schools need some time to come back on track of learning and socialising. The schools were reopened in the first week of December, but due to the rising Omicron cases, the schools were shut arbitrarily. The Omicron cases are restricted to limited cities, but the entire state was made to suffer due to it, he said. “Such decisions should have been taken with proper consultation. There are many villages and towns where Omicron or Delta variant of COVID-19 was absent or has negligible presence. The schools in such areas should have been kept open, but bureaucracy failed to rise to the occasion,” Chaskar added.

Sulakshana Bhujbal, a parent from Mulund area of Mumbai, said, “We were a bit concerned when the schools were reopened in December first week, but soon realised its importance. My daughter, after meeting her friends and attending her classes in the school, was extremely happy. But the decision of suddenly closing down the schools came as a shock for us…Now we are happy that the decision to reopen the schools has been taken.” .

Even as the classes were going on in online mode, children especially those from lower-income households were having issues keeping up. Learning gaps were reported from across the state. A section of parents and students had written to the Chief Minister seeking reopening of schools. The letter read, if malls can reopen, why not schools?

Last week, the Bombay High Court had expressed concern about the lack of a mobile network in 829 villages in the Gadchiroli district of eastern Maharashtra which makes it difficult for the children there to attend online school. A division bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Anil Pansare of the Nagpur bench of the HC directed the state government to submit a reply on the issue.

— With inputs from PTI

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first published:January 20, 2022, 13:37 IST