With the Union government announcing that high school students can visit their schools to get doubts clarified, private school managements plan to increase maintenance fees to ensure regular sanitisation of premises and other precautionary measures. Some are increasing it under the special head “COVID fees”.
The move comes a day after the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a detailed standard operating procedure for partial reopening of schools for students of classes nine to 12 on “voluntary basis” for taking guidance from their teachers from September 21. Some of the measures mandated are cleaning and regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Teaching material, computers, laptops, and printers are to be disinfected with 70% alcohol wipes, among other measures.
D. Shashi Kumar, general secretary, Associated Management of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka, said this would lead to a steep increase in their housekeeping budget. “Even though our costs will increase drastically, we plan to increase the housekeeping fees by just 5% and hope parents understand our plight,” he said. He also said that private schools were in a tough situation as many parents had not paid fees for the 2020–21 academic year, leading to salary and job cuts.
Sumanth Narayan, founder of Shanthinikethana School, said they would have to set up new infrastructure and procure several items such as thermal scanners, besides making their housekeeping staff work extra hours. “All these charges will be bundled under one bracket and termed as ‘COVID fee’. Parents may have to pay between ₹150 to ₹250 per student per month,” he said. This will be collected only from parents who allow their children to come to school.
Meanwhile, schools have also demanded more clarity on how students can be called to schools and what activities are permitted. “The SOP states that students can come to get their doubts clarified if their parents consent. Does this mean that teachers can conduct revision classes in small batches or that they can come to only get feedback on their assignments?” asked Mr. Shashi Kumar.
Manila Carvalho, principal of Delhi Public School, Bengaluru East, said although they would be allowed to call students from September 21, they do not plan to open the school this month. “Most parents do not want to send their children to school. We may think of conducting practical classes from October,” she said.
‘Schools should not be opened’
Several health experts and parents feel that schools should not be opened yet. Giridhara R. Babu, member of the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee, said. “Let us not take chances with the lives of children. Better to be overcautious, they are our future,” he said in a tweet.
Many parents too feel that they are not ready to send their children to school yet. Sushma M., mother of two high school students, said, “Reports have shown a huge spurt in COVID-19 cases among children in countries which have opened up schools. So I will be comfortable sending my children to school only once they are vaccinated. Until then, they can manage with online classes,” she said.