Schools in Delhi witnessed thin attendance on the first day of resumption of physical classes for grades 9-12 after a long hiatus due to Covid-19, with record rains on Wednesday and a wait-and-watch approach keeping many students away. Wearing masks and carrying umbrellas as heavy rains lashed Delhi, the students returned to classes under strict Covid-19 protocol, even as some schools have decided to call the children only after a few weeks.
Students are required to submit parents' consent for attending school and all classes are to be continued both offline and online.
As part of safety guidelines, 50 percent of students are allowed per classroom.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said children had come to schools despite rains which showed that they were waiting eagerly for the schools to reopen. The national capital recorded 112.1 mm rainfall in 24 hours ending at 8:30 AM on Wednesday, the highest single-day precipitation in September in 19 years, according to India Meteorological Department.
"After 17 months schools have reopened and students will again sit and study in classrooms and have fun with their friends. And yes, children have come to schools despite rains and it is obvious they were waiting eagerly for the schools to reopen," Sisodia said on Twitter.
At a government school in Mayur Vihar, teachers had decorated the entrance with Rangoli and even performed a welcome dance for students. Many teachers said that rains may have affected attendance and hoped that numbers would pick in the coming days.
Rimpy, a Class 11 student of a government school in Tilak Nagar, is among the many in state-run schools who could not afford smartphones for online classes and were happy to finally attend regular classes.
"My younger brother is in Class 9. We did not have a phone to attend online classes which proved to be quite difficult. Now that physical classes have resumed, it will be easier for my brother and me to cope with studies," said the girl, whose father works at a factory in Model Town.
Following a marked improvement in the Covid-19 situation in the national capital, the Delhi government had on Friday announced that schools for classes 9 to 12, colleges, and coaching institutions would reopen from September 1.
There are about seven lakh students in government schools from classes 9-12, but owing to Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) guidelines, only 50 percent of students per classroom are allowed.
Government schools operate in two shifts -- morning and evening. The head of Government Girls Senior Secondary School, Vasundhara Enclave, Usha Rajput, said, "We were completely ready to reopen. We sanitised the campus and our staff has been vaccinated. Students were extremely happy to be back in school. Now all their queries and doubts can be addressed promptly."
"Students were also missing school. The third wave is a concern but we are hopeful that if all precautions are taken, we will be able to function smoothly," she said. Rupa, a teacher at a government school in Tilak Nagar said, "There was less turnout due to rains. But we are expecting more students from tomorrow."
"Students have to bring a non-objection certificate daily from their parents. They were excited to come to school after such a long time," she said. Sisodia stated on Wednesday that the approval of the parents is being taken before the children are invited to the schools.
"No school can force children to attend school without parental approval. Also, all the academic activities will continue to run offline as well as online in a blended manner. Parents will also gradually develop the confidence to send their children to school,” he said. Mridu Gupta, a physics teacher at a government school in Brahmpuri, said that science students were not able to attend practical classes as schools were closed.
"With the resumption of physical classes, we will be able to start practical work. But today there was less number of students due to the morning rainfall," Gupta said. Sisodia said that teaching will not begin immediately once schools start.
"In the first two-three days, work will be done on their social-emotional well-being through dialogue so that the children can be brought out of this mentally unsettling phase," he said.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has also notified other safety guidelines for reopening schools such as mandatory thermal screening, staggered lunch breaks, alternate seating arrangements, and avoiding routine guest visits. It has been said students, teachers, and non-teaching staff living in Covid-19 containment zones will not be allowed to come to schools and colleges.
“Government officials and school administration are fully alert. It will be ensured that all schools follow Covid protocol and social distancing. At present, schools are being opened with 50 per cent capacity, but once these protocols become a habit among children, schools will be opened with full capacity,” the deputy CM said.
A student at an east Delhi government school said, "I am excited to meet my friends" and added that with Covid-19 still around, everybody has to take precautions. "This is the new normal and we will have to adjust," the student said.
Ayushka Gupta, a student of Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in west Delhi, said that only one student was allowed to sit on one bench, unlike earlier when two students would sit together. "With this kind of seating arrangement, we could not interact much with our friends," she said.
Rimpy, who goes by her first name, said many of her friends could not make it to school due to heavy rainfall and that she was looking forward to meeting them in the next few days.
"Teachers did not allow us to interact much with our classmates owing to the fear of coronavirus. We plan to catch up after the school gets over," she said. Mount Carmel School in Dwarka does not plan to reopen for at least a month as its entire staff is not completely vaccinated, and has decided to continue with online learning.
"We are not prepared to open our school right now. They haven't started vaccinating children and all my staff is not vaccinated. We are still in the middle of a pandemic. We are not going to take a chance," Dean, Mount Carmel School, Michael Williams, said.
"I think it is much smarter to wait for another two months. We have waited for long and we can wait some more," he added. Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, reopened on Wednesday, but it is not providing buses for students as a precaution against Covid-19.
While the government has noted that vaccination centres and activities like ration distribution which were going on in different schools will continue, the DDMA said the area being used for these activities should be separated from the area which will be used for academic activities.
Sisodia also said that the decision on restarting primary classes in offline mode will be taken on the basis of experience of opening schools for higher grades.
“Many experts were of the opinion that the risk of Covid in children is low. Keeping this in view, schools can be opened for primary classes starting from 100-150 schools. "But, the government will decide to open schools for primary classes only on the basis of the experience of opening schools for the higher grades,” he said.