While 53% parents now willing to send children to school, majority of them want local administration to enable vaccination at/near school for staff and supply antigen test kits to school
- ● Percentage of parents who are hesitant to send their children to school declined from 76% in June to 48% in July to 44% in August
- ● Parents in support of reopening schools say districts with zero or single-digit cases should open schools with close monitoring by local administration
- ● 74% parents want Government to ensure that every school has sufficient RAT kits made available to them via district administration
- ● 89% want district administrations to organise free vaccination camps at/near schools so all staff can get vaccinated on priority
August 17, 2021, New Delhi: Several states in India have allowed schools to reopen for senior classes in the last 30 days as cases decline by over 90% post-2nd wave of the COVID-19 outbreak that reached its peak in early May. Karnataka is the latest state to join the fray amongst other states that have allowed to reopen classes from 9-12 from August 23rd. Previously, the Gujarat Government announced to open classes for senior schools from July 26 with several COVID safety guidelines. Similarly, Chhattisgarh reopened classes from I to V and VIII, and from X to XII from August 2 with 50% capacity. The State Government of Odisha allowed schools to reopen for classes 10 to 12. Maharashtra Government allowed schools to reopen in areas with zero active COVID-19 cases for classes 8 to 12 from July 15, while schools in Uttar Pradesh were permitted to open from August 16th for classes 9 -12.
UNICEF last month had published a statement that schools cannot wait for cases to get to zero maintaining that there is clear evidence that primary and secondary schools are not amongst the main drivers of transmission. It said that the rise of COVID transmission in schools is manageable with appropriate mitigation strategies in most settings. It further added that the decision to open or close schools should be based on risk analysis and the epidemiological considerations in the communities where they are situated. While most private and some Government schools in urban and semi-urban districts have managed to conduct classes online, millions of children who are enrolled at smaller Government schools or those in rural India have been left out, spending the last 18 months at home with little education. Education and health experts both believe that there is an urgent need to get them back into school.
In states where schools have opened in the last 30 days, the response has been mixed. In many private schools, physical attendance has been 50% at best and at a time when COVID cases are 90% off their peak, new COVID cases have been reported from Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Haryana. Most health experts believe that in children, despite the Delta variant, the SARS-COV2 virus does not cause severe illness, however, a section of parents is quite concerned due to the unknowns surrounding COVID, risk of long COVID, as well as the risk of transmission from children to adults in the family. Also, there are currently approximately 50 districts across India that have a test positivity rate (TPR) above 10% with most of these districts concentrated in Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and other North-Eastern states.
LocalCircles has regularly been collecting responses from parents to gauge their opinion on the reopening of schools in India. The survey released in July had highlighted that 48% of Indian parents were unwilling to send their children to schools and will only do so once the children are vaccinated. The same survey also found out that 30% of parents are ready to send children once cases in their district drop down to zero while 21% were willing to send immediately. Given a lot of discussions amongst parents and the recent notifications by State Governments, LocalCircles has conducted another survey to understand where parents stand on sending their children to school. It then compared the findings of the survey with similar surveys conducted earlier to gauge how the opinion of parents on the reopening of schools has changed over the period. It also sought parents’ pulse on district administrations enabling schools with sufficient Rapid Antigen Test Kits along with free vaccination camps at /near schools so all staff can get vaccinated on priority. The August survey received over 47,000 responses from parents residing in 378 districts of India. 66% of the participants were men while 34% were women. 42% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 28% from tier 2 and 30% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
53% parents support reopening of schools in August-September, 44% parents are against the same
The first question in the survey asked parents about their position in regard to the physical reopening of schools of their children given that cases are now at 10% of its peak. In response, 9% of parents said schools are already open for their children, while 2% said that although schools are open, they are not going or doing online classes. Breaking down the poll, 21% of parents said that schools should consider opening from August 15, another 15% want it to open from September 1, and 6% want schools to open from September 15. The majority of 44% of Indian parents surveyed said that schools should not consider opening at all right now. 3% of parents did not have an opinion. On an aggregate basis, 53% of Indian parents support the reopening of schools in August-September, however, 44% of parents are against the same. This question in the survey received 9,711 responses.
If the percentage of Indian parents who are not willing to send their children to schools post the 2nd wave of the COVID-19 is to be compared over time, 76% of Indian parents were hesitant to send their ward to schools in June right after the deadly 2nd wave. As cases continued to decline in most districts of India, this percentage also reduced drastically to 48% in July, and is currently at 44%.
74% parents who are willing to send children to school want Government to ensure that every school has sufficient Rapid Antigen Test Kits made available to them via their district administration
Random rapid antigen testing in schools is something experts from around the world have been recommending as schools reopen. Staff and students developing even minor symptoms—headache, loss of smell and taste, nasal congestion and runny nose, cough, muscle pain, sore throat, fever, diarrhoea, and breathing difficulties—can be immediately confirmed if they have COVID with a Rapid Antigen Test. Many district administrations in India have been conducting antigen testing camps in 2020 and 2021. When parents were asked if these tests should be made available to all schools via the district administrations, the majority of 74% of parents who are willing to send children to school want Central and State Governments to ensure that schools have sufficient Rapid Antigen Test kits made available to them via their District Administration. 15% of parents are of the opinion that rapid antigen testing should not be done in schools. 4% said that the Government should not be supplying rapid antigen test kits, and 7% did not have an opinion. This question in the survey received 19,354 responses.
89% parents who are willing to send children to school want State Governments to ensure district administrations organise free vaccination camps at /near schools so all staff can get vaccinated on priority
Vaccination of all staff including management, teachers and ground staff can play a crucial role in the safe opening of schools as suggested by epidemiologists. The final question in the survey sought parents’ pulse if the State Governments should ensure District Administrations for August and September organise free vaccination camps at/near schools so all school staff can get vaccinated on priority. In response, the majority of 89% of parents survey said “yes”. Only 11% said “no, let the school/staff arrange for their own vaccination”. This question in the survey received 19,195 responses.
In summary, 53% of parents at the national level are willing to send their children to school for in-person classes if they commence in August-September. However, 44% of parents are still not ready to send their children to school for in-person classes. Those willing to send children include parents whose children are unable to avail online classes or find them ineffective or less effective in comparison to those in person. Most of them believe while cases in their districts are zero or in single digits, schools should function. On the other hand, parents who are unwilling to send children to school for in-person classes cite the risk of festivals (Rakhi, Onam, Ganesh Puja, others) leading to cases going up, low chances of effective social distancing in schools and the risk of COVID to children, and through them to adults at home.
Global epidemiologists have suggested six factors for safe opening of schools, including (a) vaccination of every staff member, (b) good ventilation in classrooms including air purifiers in each class, (c) mandatory masking of KN95 or N95 (no cloth mask), (d) seating with social distancing, (e) no big Indoor gatherings, and (f) Random RAT testing of staff and students. As found out by the survey 74% of parents who are willing to send children to school want Government to ensure that every school has sufficient Rapid Antigen Test Kits made available to them via their district administration. 89% of parents also want State Governments to ensure district administrations organise free vaccination camps at /near schools so all staff can get vaccinated on priority.
In addition to this, some latest estimates by researchers based on data released by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), the time required to reach an infectious dose for an individual from an infected individual if both are wearing an N-95 mask and are 6 feet apart is 167 hours of exposure for regular SARS-COV2 and 68 hours of exposure for Delta variant. If the N-95 mask is well fitted in both cases, the research indicates that it requires 677 hours of exposure to reach an infectious dose. In the context of schools what this indicates is that if N-95 masks are made mandatory and the school period is restricted to 3 hours a day with no break for lunch and social distancing of 6 feet is followed, the likelihood of transmission goes down to near zero.
The key for the safe opening of schools is for the management to follow the above protocols, along with the local district administration keeping a close eye on daily case-loads. If the Test Positivity Rate (TPR) goes above 2-3%, immediate calls must be taken to shut down schools in the district again. Also, State Government permitting the opening of schools does not mean schools must reopen. Schools must take their own calls on reopening based on their readiness and comfort levels of parents and find the right offline-online combination to decide when to reopen. For schools and students that have the privilege of online education, a good start may be 2 times a week of in-person classes so students can slowly start getting back into the routine, meet friends and get a break from the screen while continuing education online for the remainder of the days. Basis progress and local daily caseloads, the number of days of physical school can then be increased. For those schools that do not have the infrastructure for online education, physical classes can start for all days of the week but are limited to 3-hour sessions to start with. The hours can then be adjusted upwards if cases continue to stay low.
LocalCircles will share the findings of this survey with key stakeholders in the Central Government and Chief Secretaries of all states so inputs of parents can be considered as they decide to reopen schools and the sustainment strategy. In addition, the Central Government must issue necessary guidelines on vaccination camps near/at schools and supply of Rapid Antigen Test Kits to schools via district administrations and monitor this activity closely.
The survey received over 47,000 responses from 24,000 unique parents residing in 378 districts of India. 66% of the participants were men while 34% were women. 42% of respondents were from tier 1 districts, 28% from tier 2 and 30% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.