It will be a whole new tightly scripted, highly regimented and regularly disinfected world when schools reopen to masked learners. Not much colour, fun and games.
Schools reporting any Covid-19 case after the institutions are reopened will have to be closed, guidelines from the Education ministry indicate.
This means that unlike the current closure affecting all schools, shutdowns will be on a case-by-case basis should an outbreak occur.
Those affected will have to take lessons online. Schools will be required to ensure access to learning materials for learners without internet connectivity.
Schools unable to meet the exacting, costly and wide-ranging guidelines will not be allowed to reopen.
School heads will also be required to create an isolation room for handling students with suspected Covid-19 infections.
The isolation facility should be equipped with basic supplies and will hold learners with symptoms as they await emergency response teams.
These are among the tough new rules the government is instituting as part of its reopening strategy oulined in a document approved by Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang.
Schools were closed in March after the Covid-19 outbreak. The government intially set January 1, 2021, for reopening, however, there are indications schools are likely to reopen next month – if they can meet the conditions.
According to the guidelines seen by the Star, schools will also be required to have a qualified nurse in charge of learners with health issues.
Schools have also been asked to consider making their boarding facilities optional to prevent overcrowding and stem the virus’ spread.
The government has also banned assemblies and parents’ meetings, inter-school competitions in games, drama, music and sports.
Swimming and gymnastics have been banned until Covid-19 risks are minimised.
In a break from the past, learning will take place most of the time outside classrooms and lecture halls to ensure social distancing.
When classrooms are used, school managers will be required to ensure a one-metre distance between desks.
“Teachers shall demarcate by marking positions for the learners’ desks’ positions to ensure one metre distance is observed in the classrooms,” the guidelines read.
To contain infections, schools will be required to leave windows and doors open during learning periods.
All desks will be arranged in rows facing forward to minimise face-to-face contact among learners.
Desks must not be shared and must be disinfected daily.
Frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, window knobs, grilles, floors, walls and tables will be cleaned and disinfected twice daily.
“Every classroom/lecture hall should have pedal-operated waste collection bins with liners,” the guidelines state.
In a clear message that things are likely to get tough for schools without a financial war chest, the ministry warns that institutions that do not implement these guidelines will not be allowed to provide education services.
“In all aspects, the Public Health Act and other existing legal frameworks shall apply,” Kipsang said.
Although the ministry emphasises hand hygiene, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers is prohibited among learners unless under supervision.
The reopening of schools remains hotly debated as general Covid-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed.
Stakeholders in the education sector have been calling for reopening schools earlier than the January 1 date initially set.
The Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association has termed the guidelines “noble” but taken the government to task for failure to prepare early.
School Heads Association chairman Indimuli Kahi regretted that schools “remain in the same state they were in March 15 when they closed down.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Kahi said.
In the guidelines, school heads will also work with the Health ministry to map out quarantine centres in case of an outbreak.
“Map an emergency health facility within 10 kilometres and collaborate with county governments to have personnel assigned to monitor learners,” the report reads.
Schools will also be out of bounds for visitors. There will be no institution-community events such as career talks.
Movement into and out of the institutions will be restricted while schools will be required to keep daily attendance records of learners and staff.
All learners, teachers and non-teaching staff will receive temperature checks every morning.
“All learners shall wear age-appropriate face masks at all times. Those with hearing impairment shall wear clear face masks for ease of communication.
“Those with developmental disabilities will be required to change their face masks regularly,” the regulations read.
Beds in dormitories will also be arranged one metre apart. Double-decker beds must have one metre headroom.
Learners will not be allowed to share personal items such as slippers, shoes, clothes, towels, toothbrushes, soap, shoe brushes and beds.
Schools will also be required to provide at least five litres for day scholars and provide soap or hand sanitiser.
Learners will be required to wash their bedding weekly and dry it under direct sunlight.
Schools will also be required to put in place mechanisms to protect learners with disabilities from exposure to the coronavirus.
“Safe waste collection bins should be adequately provided in the dormitories and must be emptied frequently,” the regulations read.
Learners will be relieved from cleaning washroom facilities. Instead, cleaning will be done by adults kitted with basic PPES – gowns, boots, gloves, and masks.
They will be trained in safe toilet disinfection and the washrooms will be disinfected at least three times a day.
At any one time, schools will be required to regulate or limit the number of learners visiting toilets.
“All learning institutions should have adequate, clean and well-maintained toilets at a ratio of one door to 25 girls and one door to 30 boys with a urinal.”
Learners will also not be allowed to share PPEs during laboratory sessions, with workstations arranged a metre apart.
Staff will also be required to observe social distancing in offices and are encouraged to use memos, mobile chats, text messages, and emails in their communication.
Libraries will be fitted with hand-washing facilities, arranged in line with the one-metre requirement, and furniture cleaned daily.
Kitchen staff will be required to don PPEs.
Students will be served in shifts and where possible, learners will take their lunches in class.
There will be no sharing of food and utensils, each student will store their utensils separately.
For school buses, the institutions will have to stagger pick up and drop off time. Those on board will be required to wear face masks and observe social distancing.
As in public service vehicles, school buses will only carry half their capacity as outlined in the Legal Notice 50 of April 6.
Records of learners using school transport and persons authorised to pick them up will be maintained.
“The class teacher shall meet learners who are below nine years at the institution gate at the start of the day and escort them to the exit at pick up times to limit the public entering the institutions,” the guidelines read
Learners are encouraged to ride bicycles and walk if possible to ensure social distancing.
Parents older than age 58 have been advised not to pick and drop off learners due to their own high risk of contracting Coid-19.
School managers are required to set up pedal-operated taps to minimise hand contact and reduce the risk of infections.
“Where standard taps are in use, ensure taps are regularly cleaned and provide paper towels to be used in opening and closing the taps,” the guidelines read.