Guidelines in place to ensure schools’ preparedness to re-open 

Yangchen C Rinzin  

Both public and private schools will open for Classes Pre-Primary (PP) to VIII  for the 2021 academic session from February 1 as scheduled, the education ministry confirmed.

Classes PP-VIII have remained closed since March last year owing to Covid-19 pandemic.

Students of classes IV to VIII will report to school on February 3, while those in PP-III will report on February 15. Teachers have to report to their respective schools on February 1.

But students of Thinleygang and Wangdue PS, Shengana and Dorokha LSS, and Khuruthang MSS will report on April 1. Teachers will report on March 22.

These schools have been hosting students from Phuentsholing Thromde after Phuentsholing was declared red zone during the first lockdown.

Department of School and Education’s director general, Karma Galay, said that schools were told to re-open as per the plan unless there is local transmission again.

“With guidelines in place, we’ll re-open schools as per the directives,” he said. “All schools would adopt strict health safety measures like wearing facemasks inside premises, washing hands and maintain distance.”

The director general added that schools could come up with the ideas to ensure implementaton of safety protocols.

“We’ve even been trying to advise schools to see the possibility to explore if schools could arrange stationery and uniforms in the schools. This would ensure parents and students do not have to look in the market and avoid crowds,” he said.

However, middle and higher secondary schools will re-open in April given that Classes X and XII will have their board examinations in March.

Students of Classes IX, X and XII, have to report on April 1, and class XI students report on April 15. Teachers of these schools are required to report on March 22.

The re-opening decision will also apply for Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), Non-Formal Education (NFE), and Community Learning Centre (CLC).

An education ministry official said public ECCD, NFE and CLC could likely open from March, as the proposal to re-open has been submitted to the government.

Private ECCDs were given an option to re-open since last year.

“Same guidelines designed for the schools would be followed while re-opening. We’re just waiting for specific directives,” he said.

As per the guidelines issued yesterday, all schools are to resume by adopting strict health safety measures like establishing hand washing stations with 24 hours running water, maintaining physical distance, wearing facemask compulsory in the school, and using Druk Trace App.

Compulsory thermal screening to check both students and teachers’ temperature before entering school campus is also required. Schools should have separate sick room and provide psychosocial support.

The guidelines designed for both day and boarding schools also require schools to plan for staggered reporting and dispersing of students, including staggered timing for the use of washing facilities and breaks.

The guidelines also require schools to create a compartment between the driver and passengers’ area, properly separated with a plastic sheet; drivers to use facemask all times and check the temperature before entering school premises.

“After on Covid-19 or off-campus special duty with external offices, drivers would be required to follow proper health protocol before joining school duty,” the guidelines.

The education ministry has also asked all dzongkhags and thromdes to have alternative provisions if schools are used for managing the pandemic so that teaching and learning of children can occur.

Many school administrations said that preparation were in place as per guidelines. Some schools are also ensuring that they do not mix day scholar students with boarder students although it is difficult to maintain with lack of teaching staff.

Schools like Sarpang Central School had to send some students from Class IX and X to other school, as there was shortage of classrooms.

Nangkor Central School is also exploring with Pemagatshel dzongkhag administration to let shopkeepers bring school uniforms and stationery.

Meanwhile, many parents are anxious with re-opening of schools. Some parents shared that the protocol requires maintaining physical distance, which would not be possible given at least one class has more than 20 students.

“Without enough infrastructures and teachers, how can a school manage to teach in a shift or have additional classrooms,” Dawa Tenzin, a parent, said. “It also requires students to wear facemask all times, how feasible it would be with small children?”

Given the risk of community transmission and second nationwide lockdown, many parents felt it would not be wise to re-open schools. “Schools were shut down when we didn’t have local transmission. Now we’re re-opening when local cases are emerging from every corner,” said one.