The education ministry released guidelines on Monday for the reopening of schools, including for a thorough cleaning and disinfection of the premises, flexibility in attendance, no assessment for up to three weeks, and ensuring a smooth transition from home-based schooling during the coronavirus-induced lockdown to formal schooling.
It also asked the states and Union territories to frame their own standard operating procedures (SOPs) for health and safety precautions, based on their local requirements.
"Schools must arrange and implement for thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all areas, furniture, equipment, stationery, storage places, water tanks, kitchens, canteens, washrooms, laboratories, libraries on school campuses and ensure airflow in an indoor space," the ministry said in a set of guidelines for a gradual reopening of schools from October 15.
"Schools may be encouraged to make their own SOPs based on the guidelines issued by states and UTs, keeping in view the safety and physical or social-distancing norms, and ensuring that the notices, posters, messages, communication to parents in this regard are prominently displayed and disseminated," it said.
The ministry recommended that schools adopt flexible attendance and sick leave policies.
"Flexible attendance and sick leave policies may be developed and implemented to encourage students and staff to stay at home when sick. Students may attend schools only with the written consent of parents. Students may opt for online classes rather than physically attend school.
"There shall be no assessment up to 2-3 weeks of school reopening and use of ICT and online learning shall continue to be encouraged," it said.
Universities and schools across the country were ordered shut on March 16 to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On March 25, the Centre announced a nationwide lockdown. While several restrictions have been eased gradually in different phases of the "unlock" since June 8, educational institutions continue to remain closed.
However, according to the latest unlock guidelines, schools, colleges, and other educational institutions can reopen outside the COVID-19 containment zones after October 15. The decision on reopening the institutions has been left with the states and Union territories.
"Schools should ensure a smooth transition of students from home-based schooling during lockdown to formal schooling. Schools can implement a re-adjusted school calendar and redesigned Annual Curriculum Plan (ACP), remedial classes, or conduct back-to-school campaign among other steps," the guidelines said.
The schools have been advised to form task teams such as emergency care support and response teams, general support teams for all stakeholders, commodity support teams, hygiene inspection teams, among others, with earmarked responsibilities.
"Physical distancing and social distancing should be ensured while planning the seating plan, functions and events should be avoided. There should be staggered entry and exit timings, points of schools, and time table. All students and staff should arrive at school wearing a face cover or mask and continue wearing it all through, especially when in class, or doing any activity in groups, such as eating in the mess, working in the laboratories, or reading in the libraries.
"Schools should plan for academic calendar changes for all classes, particularly in relation to breaks and exams. Ensure all students have access to prescribed textbooks before school reopens. Ensure availability in school or at contactable distance full-time trained healthcare attendant, nurse, doctor, and counselor to take care of the physical and mental health of the students. Regular health check-up of students and teachers may be organized," the guidelines said.