Monday, August 17, 2020.

India’s schools are reopening by state.

Last week I got an email from my sponsored student in southern India, near Chennai. I am so proud of her. We’ve been corresponding for eleven years now and she just finished her first year of college.

“Due to corona issue all our schools and colleges are closed from mid of March,” she writes, “And we are staying inside our house. We are studying only through online classes.” Her little brother, who just advanced to eighth grade, is studying at home too.

We care so much about our children and their education. Like many large countries, India’s schools are reopening state by state. Assam, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Goa may open in September with some precautions. Other states must wait for a decline in cases. Doing research on school openings planned for September, I found countries have a variety of approaches. But they all have one thing in common. Nobody is going back to 2019.

Each of Canada’s provinces has a plan for September. Alberta’s students will be grouped in cohorts with staggered times for classes, recess, and lunch. Staff and students in grades 4 – 12 will wear masks. Parents who don’t plan to send their children to school must develop an alternate plan with the school. In Manitoba, high school students may have to be on line. Younger students start Sept. 8. Masks are not required, but physical distancing or cohorts are. The province of Ontario requires non-medical masks for grades 4-12, but medical masks for teachers and staff. Quebec will divide elementary and high school students into 6-student “bubble groups” who do not have to distance from each other. They require masks in common areas but not in classrooms or outside at recess.

August, 2020: First time I’ve ever seen hand sanitizer marketed as a “school item.”

Canada’s various plans provide a good microcosm of the world as a whole. In general, the countries I checked have these things in common

  1. Distancing rules in some form.
    • England: Teachers maintain a 2-meter distance from students and from each other when possible.
    • France: Teachers wear a mask unless they can maintain a 1-meter distance.
  2. Enhanced hygiene requirements, especially handwashing.
  3. Children stay home if they have a fever or symptoms or if someone is sick at home.

Opening plans vary most in regard to:

  1. Schedules: For example, elementary students may go full time and high school students may go on staggered days of the week to reduce class size.
  2. Class size and group organization: France has the same class size as before. The province of Quebec, Canada, has 6-student “social bubbles” who don’t have to distance from each other, both for elementary and high school students. Germany’s state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania divides students into clusters in which they may interact with each other, so that students only have to wear masks on school buses and in common areas.
  3. Masks: Requirements usually relate to distancing, indoors vs. outdoors, or use of bubble groups or clusters in classes. For example:
    • Japan: Students can remove masks in class as long as they are socially distanced.
    • Scotland: Masks not mandatory, but students are grouped.
    • France: If distance is less than 1 meter, teachers and students over 11 must wear a mask.
    • Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia: High school students must mask in class.
    • Germany, Berlin: Students must wear masks in the building, but not in classrooms.

An elementary school in Dunedin, New Zealand, where masks are not required, started having “Mask Mondays” where students and teachers are encouraged to wear masks, which they may make themselves. The idea is to help the children get used to wearing masks so they feel comfortable doing it where appropriate. About 50% of the students went along with it.

Back in March when the pandemic began to spread, schools closed throughout the world. On March 22, a friend of mine, a teacher in Alsace, wrote, “We MUST stay at home. It’s not allowed to go out. All schools are closed, just some are open to sit for the children of medical personnel.” Schools reopened in France later in the spring, but with strict requirements. The reopening planned for fall is more relaxed, but will be carefully watched.

In contrast, as you saw above, Chennai’s schools were closed in March and have been closed ever since. The area is still considered a hot spot of coronavirus transmission. My friend there writes, “Here the situation is getting worse day by day. How is the situation there in your country? Whether you are able to move freely in your area? I came to know from the news that America has been very much affected by the global pandemic. I hope all are safe there.”

Reopening schools? Definitely a judgement call. More likely, a series of judgement calls. We may disagree on details, but only because we care so much.

Recent Headlines and Sources (by date):

“Coronavirus: Dunedin school introduces Mask Monday to normalise face mask use among students,”  Stuff, Aug. 17, 2020. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/122469772/coronavirus-dunedin-school-introduces-mask-monday-to-normalise-face-mask-use-among-students

“Schools restart after short summer vacation amid pandemic,” Kyodo News, Aug. 17, 2020. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/08/321a6b7d841b-schools-restart-after-short-summer-vacation-amid-pandemic.html

“A letter from Chennai: as India tops 2 million COVID-19 cases: ‘In the midst of so much death, despair and depression, life does go on,’ ” Marketwatch, updated Aug. 16, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-letter-from-chennai-india-tops-2-million-covid-19-cases-in-the-midst-of-so-much-death-despair-and-depression-life-does-go-on-11597052163

“Schools in Europe Reopen With Little Debate—but More Masks and Distancing,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-in-europe-reopen-with-little-debatebut-more-masks-and-distancing-11597423822

“France reveals its plan for the return to school in September,” Aug. 13, 2020. The Local. https://www.thelocal.fr/20200813/france-reveals-its-plan-for-the-return-to-school-in-september

“Coronavirus: Will schools fully reopen for the new term?” BBC News, Aug. 11, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-51643556

“When are schools re-opening? Here’s what we know so far,” The Indian Express, Updated Aug. 9, 2020. https://indianexpress.com/article/education/when-are-schools-re-opening-check-status-across-the-states-6537516/

“Who heads back to class in September? A look at school reopenings by province,” CTV News, July 29, 2020. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/who-heads-back-to-class-in-september-a-look-at-school-reopenings-by-province-1.5042739

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the events of these days from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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