Alarm bells ring on school clusters

Many are calling for stricter SOP enforcement or another round of temporary closures for the students’ safety

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by BERNAMA

MALAYSIANS, particularly parents and academics, are growing frustrated with the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbated by the rising cases in schools.

Many are calling for stricter standard operating procedure (SOP) enforcement or another round of temporary closures for the students’ safety.

Norhafizah Mustafa, 34, a teacher at a secondary school in Bangi, Selangor, said the infection risk among students is very high due to crowded classrooms, thus jeopardising the health safety of the school.

“We do not know how far a school can adhere to the SOPs. No one could know who could be bringing the virus into the area (school compound) and how safe the school is,” Norhafizah told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday.

She said some parents have already stopped sending their children to school in light of the higher number of Covid-19 cases of late.

She further said the Education Ministry could enhance the SOP compliance in schools by stationing auxiliary police or personnel to bolster the enforcement action.

In an announcement on Facebook last night by Education Minister Datuk Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin (picture), schools in Group A will be closed for Hari Raya Aidilfitri from May 7 till May 15 involving Kelantan, Johor, Kedah and Terengganu.

Those in Group B — Perlis, Perak, Pahang, Sabah, Labuan, Sarawak, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Putrajaya — will be closed from May 8 to May 16.

Mohd Radzi said schools nationwide will observe home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) classes for two weeks after the Hari Raya break. This is to reduce the risk of infections outside of schools during the festive season.

During a press conference earlier in the day, the minister had said face-to-face school sessions will continue following the Health Ministry’s data that showed schools are safe, Bernama reported.

A few other parents contacted by TMR concurred with Norhafizah, saying schools hardly follow the SOPs strictly in full classrooms.

One mother of two said even when the right SOPs are in place in the classroom, the practices may go down the drain outside if there is no control.

Muhammad Zaki Zainal, 38, said it is time for the government to reconsider closing schools and restart online learning to contain the spread of the virus in schools.

He, whose children are in Standards 1 and 2 in a school in Putrajaya, said parents tried their best to equip their children with face masks, hand sanitisers and antibacterial wet wipes and always reminding them to wash their hands and keep physical distance among friends.

However, he said for a Standard 1 pupil, they often forget to fully apply these bits of advice at all times in schools.

“With more and more school clusters, I think it is better to suspend physical learning sessions from two weeks to a month and shift to online learning to ensure the safety and health of the kids.

“While for the public and private sectors (workers), it is time to reactivate work-from-home,” he said.

A 42-year-old parent who lives in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur said it is in the best interest of the school-children to let them stay at home to reduce the risk of infection as they would not be able to get inoculated in the near term compared to adults.

Shaharizan Yusof, 42, said parents who come from various places must also abide by the SOPs when going or visiting their children who are in boarding academic institutions.

He, who has two children in boarding schools in Negri Sembilan, noticed that some parents within the same state visited their children outside of the fixed visiting hours.

He said these unwarranted visits have increased the risk of virus transmission in the closed compound of a boarding school and it may have to be shut down once cases are detected.

Malaysia recorded an 83.3% increase of Covid-19 cases in the education sector in the week of April 18-April 24 compared to the previous week.

In a circular, the Selangor Education Department ordered 79 schools to close for two days starting yesterday after Covid-19 cases were reported.

Similarly, 20 primary and secondary schools in Penang have been instructed to close for two days due to Covid-19 cases.

There are over 50 active clusters that have emerged from the education sector since the start of the year.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba reported in a press conference yesterday that last year, 8,369 children aged 12 and below tested positive for Covid-19, while this year up to 23,739 children aged 12 and under have been infected, to date, where 60% of the cases are sporadic.