School reopening in Tamil Nadu: Standard precautions and safety measures to take

The Department of Public Health has issued a set of SOPs in view of school reopening, detailing the protocols to be followed.

The school education department has announced that September 1 could be the tentative date when schools reopen across Tamil Nadu. Following this, the Department of Public Health has issued a set of detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for school reopening, covering the various precautions and safety measures to be taken by school to prevent spread of COVID-19.

General guidelines for school reopening

  • SoPs along with IEC materials to be shared to school management.
  • Sanitizers/soap with water to be made available by the concerned authorities .
  • Schools (Government,Government aided and Private) have to open the campuses in phases, with such activities where they can easily adhere to social distancing, wearing masks and other protective measures. This includes administrative offices, laboratories and libraries etc.
  • Screening of entire school children and teachers to be done in a week’s time using RBSK team, if needed other PHC teams may be mobilized. Screening of school children should include co-morbidity.
  • MMU team should be available in the blocks and their contact details to be shared to schools for contacting them in case of emergency.
  • Symptomatic students/teachers or staff shall not be allowed inside the campus.
  • All the PHCs should be alerted to handle any suspected symptomatic children as per SOPs
  • Sufficient quantity of Vitamin C, multivitamin tablets and other immune­ boosters to be given to children.
  • Vaccination of teachers and other staff who are working in the school should be ensured 100%
  • All students within eligible age group for vaccination should be vaccinated.
  • Ensure that only 50% of the students are allowed at a time.
  • Health Inspectors/ Block Health Supervisors/Non-medical Supervisors to be assigned to each and every school including private institutions to monitor the follow-up of SOPs
  • School campus cleaning and creation of sufficient hand washing facility will be the responsibility of local body/school management

The Deputy Director of Health Services is instructed to ensure that the Standard Operating Procedures followed with strict adherence without any deviation.

Detailed SOP for school reopening

Ensure Physical / social distancing at the Entry and Exit Points of the schools.

  • Adequate arrangements of thermal scanner, sanitizers, face masks should be made available at all entry and exit points including the reception area.
  • Screening of students, teachers and staff, wearing of face masks, sanitizing of hands etc. must be ensured at all entry points
  • Staggering the timing of entry and exit for students of different classes      
  • Earmarking different lanes for coming and going.
  • Opening all the gates at the time of entry and exit in case schools has more than one gate and earmarking classes for each gate to avoid crowding.
  • Miking announcements through Public Announcement System to guide parent/guardians and students to maintain physical/social distancing.

Read more: Caught between past and future, Chennai schools and pupils struggle to adapt

Ensure proper cleaning and sanitation facilities in the schools prior to and after school reopening

  • Arrange for thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas, furniture, equipment, stationery, storage places, water tanks, kitchens, canteen, washrooms, laboratories, libraries etc. on school campus and ensure air flow in indoor space.
  • Ensure working hand washing facilities in the schools.
  • Ensure availability of key supplies like thermometers, disinfectants, soaps and arrange for availability of these essentials.The thermometer to be used should be a calibrated contactless infrared digital thermometer.
  • Ensure sanitization of school transport before they start plying .
  • Guidelines issued by the Department on Disinfection of Common Public Places may be referred to for suitable follow-up.
Children in classroom
The lack of physical classes deprives children of much needed social interactions. Pic: HEAL Foundation

Seating plan & Following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour:

  • As suggested by the Ministry of Health, there must be at least 6 feet distance between students in the revised seating plan. It is advisable to mark the seating that students should occupy.
  • If there are single-seater desks, simply providing space between the desks in the classrooms to maintain physical/social distancing of 6 feet will be effective. If benches are used, ‘one student one bench norm’ may be considered.
  • Similarly, physical/social distancing shall also be maintained in the staff rooms, office area, and other places of public interaction.
  • If available, temporary space or outdoor spaces (in case of pleasant weather) may be utilized for conducting classes, keeping in view the safety and security of the students and physical distance protocols.
  • Seats may be designated with adequate distance for teachers in the staff room and other available rooms/ halls.
  • The number of seats in the reception area may be limited with at least 6 feet distance between them.
  • Wearing of face masks is a must at all times and at all places inside the campus.
  • Regular and sufficient supply of face masks, sanitizer. soaps etc. to sanitation workers should be ensured inside the campus.
  • Wearing of face mask by all students and staff should be ensured.

Display signages and markings for enforcing physical/social distancing and safety protocols

  • Displaying posters/messages/stickers and signage at appropriate places in the schools reminding students about maintaining physical/social distancing such as inside the classroom, libraries, outside washrooms, hand washing stations, drinking water areas, school kitchen, halls, classrooms, buses/ cabs parking, entry and exits.
  • Ban on spitting shall be strictly enforced.
  • Marking circles on ground at different places like reception, water facility stations, hand washing stations, area outside washrooms, and other areas.
  • Marking separate lanes with arrows for coming and going at all possible places in college to avoid physical contact .
  • The necessity of physical distancing, wearing face hygiene etc. should be brought home to all.

Staggering timetables – some alternatives suggested to school authority

  • One way of ensuring physical/social distancing is to have flexible, staggered and reduced timings planned for  different classes in such a way that physical/social distancing is maintained along with other guidelines.
  • Asking only 50% percentage of the students to attend the school depending on the enrollment, rotationally on alternate days or every two days in a week and combining with home assignments could be another mechanism. This is to be decided as per instructions from the Education Department.
  • Alternatively, there could be a weekly class-wise timetable for attendance.
  • Odd-Even Formula for classes can also be considered. Running schools in two shifts in case of high enrollment schools can also be considered by reducing time duration of school hours per shift, such that the school is able to manage with the same set of teachers in the overall school hours.
  • In case the size of the classroom is small, classes may be held in rooms having larger areas such as the computer room, library, laboratory etc. with a physical distance of 6 feet between the students.
  • Wearing of face masks and proper sanitization of hands of staff engaged for the preparation and distribution of meals should be ensured.

Read more: All that we learnt in 2020 about learning

School events, congregations, meetings, etc 

  • Schools should not undertake any events where physical/social distancing is not possible.
  • Functions and celebration of festivals should be avoided in schools. However, school assembly may be conducted by the students in their respective classrooms or outdoor spaces or other available spaces and halls under the guidance of the teachers.
  • Likewise, if possible, virtual parent teacher meetings can be arranged. During the process of admission to new classes, only parents/guardians may be consulted. Children need not accompany their parents as far as possible. Efforts may be made to conduct admissions online wherever possible.

Sensitize students. parents, teachers. community members and hostel staff on COVID-19 related challenges and their role in school reopening

Prior to reopening of school, arrangements may be made for sensitization of teachers, parents, staff and members of Management Committee through online/offline modes such as pamphlets, letters, public announcement systems in villages, urban wards etc. on COVID appropriate behavior such as:

  • Required dos and don’ts including maintenance of hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces
  • Maintaining physical distance
  • Hygienic practices necessary for the prevention of COVID-19 
  • Stigmas attached to COVID-19
  • Thermal screening for fever detection
  • Avoiding attending school if having symptoms and seeking medical care
  • Vaccination of students, parents, teachers and hostel staff should be ensured 100%
  • Teachers and students belonging to containment zones shall not attend the school and other educational institutions until the containment zone is denotified.
  • Students and teachers shall be advised not to visit areas falling within the containment zone.
  • All employees who are at higher risk i.e, older employees, pregnant employees and employees who have underlying medical conditions to take extra precautions.

(This article is based on a Press Release by the Department of Public Health and has been republished here with minimal edits.)

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