Reopening schools safely

New normal: Even after vaccinated, students must still follow strict SOPs including the wearing of face masks. - Photo by CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GETTING as many people vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as possible is the country’s focus.

More so now, as schools in states under Phases Two and Three of the National Recovery Plan are set to reopen in stages from Oct 3, beginning with exam year students in Forms Five and Six.As the date looms closer, the Education Ministry has assured that getting teachers and school staff vaccinated is a priority. On Friday, Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin said teachers who refuse to be vaccinated will not be allowed to interact with students face-to-face when schools reopen.

This, Bernama reported, is to ensure that the school ecosystem is safe for students.

There are still some 2,500 teachers who have not been vaccinated but 96.7% have received at least one dose while 85.26% have completed both shots, Radzi said.

Some 73.71% of school support staff have been fully vaccinated and 89.43% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Radzi said the ministry will issue assignment guidelines for unvaccinated teachers and that action against those who do not want to be vaccinated is being discussed with the Public Service Department.While individuals under 18 will receive their vaccines beginning mid-September, medical experts cautioned that there is a possibility that not everyone within the school ecosystem will be vaccinated by the time Oct 3 comes around.

Some parents, too, have voiced their concerns and hesitance to vaccinate their children, citing lack of information and data on the side effects, while some teachers cited medical conditions as their reasons to not get vaccinated.

With this in mind, there are lingering questions about the safety of those who are vaccinated and will be attending face-to-face lessons in schools.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Faculty of Medicine Senior Consultant Paediatrician Prof Dr Zarina Abdul Latiff said even if not all students and teachers are vaccinated, the reopening of schools is still possible.

“But it must be done in a staggered manner – allow those who are already vaccinated to enter schools while ensuring there is a close follow-up process for those who are yet to be vaccinated.

“Schools need to look at the number of students, teachers and staff who have been vaccinated, and plan accordingly.

“Their level of preparedness must be well documented,” she told StarEdu.

She said it is important for students to return to schools as socialising is crucial to their mental health, in addition to it being a part of their learning process.

To combat the spread of the virus when schools reopened last year and early this year, the ministry released standard operating procedures (SOP) and guidelines for schools to adhere to. The first guideline was issued on June 4 last year, just before schools reopened, which has since been updated.

The latest version, dubbed the School Management and Operations Under the New Norm 2.0 guideline, was released on Feb 9.

Former Education director-general Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim said the new additions to the guidelines were students’ movements when they were in schools until dismissal, and how to manage those with Covid-19, close contacts and the symptoms shown.

The guideline also stressed on the need to maintain the confidentiality of students, teachers and staff infected with the virus, she said during its launch.

In April, Radzi said detailed data mapping and plans on how to tighten the existing SOPs are being conducted.

While new SOP are needed to address the country’s current situation in the ongoing battle against new Covid-19 variants, Prof Zarina said vaccination is still a must.

“Unless there are absolute contraindications, vaccination is the way forward.

“Those who do not want to be vaccinated put others at risk,” she added. — By SANDHYA MENON> MORE STORIES ON PAGES 4&5

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