July-August Reopening for International Schools in Tamil Nadu Could be Risky as COVID cases expected to peak in October

The Tamil Nadu government pleaded in the Madras High Court on Monday to allow conducting Class 10 exams as per the schedule in the state on June 15. This was in response to a petition filed by the Tamil Nadu High and Higher Secondary Schools Graduate Teachers Association against conducting the exams during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Madras High Court questioned the preparedness of the state government to ensure the safety of students. 

“What will the state government do even if one among the 9 lakh students tests positive for coronavirus and dies?” a Bench of Justices Vineet Kothari and R Suresh Kumar queried. The learned judges were concerned about the health and safety of 9 lakh students, 2 lakh teachers, and hundreds of non-teaching staff at various schools across the state.

It is in the above context that the state government revealed to the court, significant details of the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the state, and what can be expected in the coming days. The Tamil Nadu government argued that:

The COVID-19 situation in Tamil Nadu is likely to get worse in the coming days. Hence, exams must be conducted as per schedule before the situation spirals.  There is a steady rise in cases across the state and especially in Chennai. The number of reported cases in Chennai stands at 22,149 while Tamil Nadu has over 31,000 Covid-19 cases. The Tamil Nadu government expected that the danger of the pandemic ‘could be much more’ in the future. Therefore, exams may be allowed to be held in mid-June.

According to a recent projection by the Tamil Nadu Dr. MGR Medical University, Chennai alone may report 1.5 lakh COVID-19 cases by mid-July. The University projected an alarming 1,600 deaths in the same period for the city. The state’s central medical education body, which has been working with the government on coronavirus, has opined that the cases of the pandemic will peak in Tamil Nadu in October. Based on this projection, Advocate General Vijay Narayan argued that exams should be conducted as per schedule on June 15. 

He reportedly cited the University’s mathematical modeling which projects that by the end of June, Tamil Nadu may project record 1.3 lakh COVID-19 cases and nearly 800 deaths. He expected that the pandemic may peak in October-November. The case has been adjourned to June 11, just four days before Class 10 exams are scheduled to commence across the state.

Going by the concerns of the Madras High Court about the safety of the students and the staff, one can ask the management of the international schools in Tamil Nadu who are planning a July or August reopening: What will the schools do even if one student catches the coronavirus? Schools cannot be closed in a panic mode suddenly. The students are from different cities in India and some are foreign students. Parents cannot make emergency arrangements all the time to pick their children from schools, especially from those schools which are located in Ooty or Kodaikanal. It is not just a flying distance but an uphill task to negotiate the hills to reach the schools. The 14-day compulsory quarantine in different cities does not help either. Given the not so high immunity of young children, it can be a poultry farm like situation. If one gets infected, others may get the infection in no time.

The management of the international schools should use all the wisdom to plan a safe reopening of schools in Tamil Nadu. Online teaching is the new norm all over the world in COVID times. Good Shepherd International School (GSIS), Ooty has already initiated online teaching not just for regular subjects but also for co-curricular activities. This takes away the stress of students who are holed up at homes due to lockdown.  The GSIS Principal Dr. P C Thomas’ wisdom deters him from a July reopening of the school. In a lucid explanation of the fluid situation Dr. Thomas observed: ‘‘Under the current circumstances, we are not sure as to when the school can reopen its functioning at the Palada Campus (Ooty).’’

Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu government should consider starting new specialized hospitals and upgrade existing ones, especially in the Nilgiris district and Kodaikanal. Nilgiris Collector Innocent Divya has already initiated some steps to nurse back to health the poor health infrastructure in Ooty. Putting more women in positions of power can transform the destiny of our dear motherland.

It is better to reopen the international schools late after the coronavirus subsides completely rather than get caught in a sticky and dangerous situation with a July or August reopening. International schools are not located in Ali Baba’s Cave to open and close easily at the Open Sim Sim command! The lives of the little babas and babies will be at stake!

The Tamil Nadu government has cancelled class 10 examinations and promoted all the students.

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