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Safely reopening of schools: Task before parents

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Over the past few months, a lot of parents have painfully watched their kids struggle with online learning since nationwide school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, the reopening of schools for graduating students come with mixed feelings.

However, for Oby Ohakim, the founder of Project Baby, a resource centre for kids, the announcement of safe reopening of schools for graduating classes came as a shock. She said that, while parents are aware of the need to effectively educate our kids in a classroom setting, how the government is going to ensure that schools provide a safe environment still appears to be completely unknown.

“Some questions still need to be answered. How much testing will be needed upon resumption to ensure protection of the kids, teachers, and the vast number of families connected to them? If one of the students or teachers tests positive for COVID-19 after resumption, will the school need to shut down? Who will be responsible for the complex network of supervision and support that schools would need to operate safely during a pandemic? How often will schools be sanitised? What are the penalties for failing to do so?”

The mother of two, who is also a lawyer, said repeatedly, she has seen the government adopt a laissez-faire approach to reopening the economy that permits each sector to figure it out on their own.

“As a country, safely reopening schools is a step in the right direction; it is important for the kids, for parents, and even the economy.”

Ohakim noted that, while a lot of working parents rely on schools for childcare, the past few months have shown that working from home while homeschooling is disproportionately affecting working mothers. But any safe reopening of schools must balance our children’s educational needs with the need for their safety. One should not outweigh the other.

She, however, stressed that the government is operating on the presumption that they can casually announce reopening schools and families must meekly follow.

“But the truth is that families, not the government and certainly not school officials, hold the leverage. Many parents will hold-off on sending their kids back to school if they feel that the government has not taken ample precautions to protect their children from the virus.

“School authorities and PTAs should be engaged to prepare a Needs Assessment tool to map out the risks of reopening schools and the resources required to mitigate those risks for safe resumption. The plans that come out of the Needs Assessments could then provide guidance to the government and public health officials which can subsequently become an official policy for adoption by schools nationwide and included in collective bargaining agreements to ensure compliance and accountability among school authorities.

“For parents to be comfortable, the Government needs to immediately involve parents and make public any proposed ‘safe reopening’ protocols for school resumptions. It is not enough to mouth vague clichés about wearing masks and allowing a little more space among children’s desks.”


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