KOCHI: A week ago, Ayisha Sameeha, a class VII student of Calicut Higher Secondary School for the differently-abled, along with her father Aboobacker Siddique handed over a letter in Braille script to the Kozhikode district education officer, requesting the government to reopen the special school hostels in the state.
Though the state government gave a nod to reopen the schools on November 1 adhering to Covid protocol, no guidelines were issued for the reopening of the special school hostels.
The circular which had the guidelines for school reopening mentioned that the decision to reopen hostels will be announced later. It’s been a month since the schools have reopened and the parents, and students are left in the lurch.
“Though the schools have reopened, it has been of no use for these students, as a majority of them find it difficult to travel long distances just to attend the classes till noon. So, they are left with no choice other than to attend online classes,” says Abdul Razaq, headmaster of Calicut Higher Secondary School for the differently-abled.
The school has around 122 students. Only 15 are attending offline classes. “We have students from several districts, and even from Lakshwadeep. We have sent requests to the respective authorities, but they say a decision will be taken only after analysing the Covid spread rate,” he says.
“I went to school only for the first two days. Being vision impaired, we need to touch and feel the topics we learn. Since it was difficult for the rest of the students to travel, only I was present in the class. Without the peers, it was difficult to learn.
I humbly request the government to issue the guidelines for the reopening of special school hostels, and give us the rights we deserve,” says Ayisha, who aspires to become an English teacher.
Of the 43 special schools in the state for the visually challenged and hearing impaired, a majority of the students depend on hostel facilities.
“It is riskier if they are depending on public transport, as the students can travel only by touching the surfaces. Most parents do not work remotely anymore. Since they are mostly outdoors, the risk of virus spread prevails in the households also,” says Aboobacker.
Confined to homes for over two years now, the children with special needs and their parents are facing stress and behavioural issues.
“Their siblings get to attend offline classes in their schools. This is causing mental distress to many students, as authorities have made their disability a disadvantage for stopping them from attending schools,” he says.
Besides academic activities, special schools are a place that would teach the students to be self-reliant and independent. “There’s a limitation to how much a parent can teach. As majority of teachers are differently-abled, they can help them become self-reliant. With the hostels being shut, many are deprived of this opportunity,” he says.
‘We are ready to open hostels’ While the hostels of the rest of the schools have reopened, doors remain shut for those who fall under the inclusive education system. The total strength in a special school is comparatively lesser.
“In a class, there’ll be a maximum of five to six students. All of them are seated on separate seats. Hostel rooms will not be crowded. Since the numbers are less, the staff in the hostel can give individual attention as well. If any staffer goes outside, they are expected to undergo RT-PCR test,” says Jiji Varghese, headmistress of School for the blind, Aluva.
Separate bathroom facilities will also be arranged for them. Students can use the loo assigned to them. “Requests to reopen the school hostels have been sent to special school HM forum, Director of General Education and State Disability Commissioner. They promised to bring the request to the state government’s notice. No response has come so far,” she says.
Headmistress of Assisi School for the Deaf, Muvattupuzha, Sr Jeeva Francis says they cannot provide facilities such as speech therapy and audiology assistance during online classes.
“This is an emergency situation for the students of the state. They are finding it difficult to follow the teachers online,” she says,
“If the authorities are concerned about the visually and hearing impaired students’ immunity level, their disability shouldn’t be the sole criterion to measure their immunity level,” says Aboobacker Siddique.
What the govt says General education department principal secretary A P M Mohammad Hanish says, hostels of special schools can be reopened only after getting the opinion of the disaster management department.
“High-level committee members, including the disaster management secretary and general education secretary, are yet to decide on this matter,” says Saju S, additional secretary, disaster management department.
Special schools not included in mid-day meal scheme
Special schools in the state are not included in the government’s mid-day meal scheme. Instead, they avail boarding grants.
“Through this, school authorities also used to feed the day scholars who find it difficult to bring food from home. Now, with the hostels being shut, the boarding grant is also not given. The kids who attend offline classes have to travel back on empty stomach. In some schools, teachers themselves raise funds to feed the disabled students,” says Shahul Madavoor, chairman of The Society for Rehabilitation of Differently Abled (SRDA).
No food kits
The food kits for school students were earmarked for those schools which were registered under the mid-day meal scheme. “Visually and hearing impaired students were excluded. After many requests, the government passed an order to provide kits, but it was not properly implemented,” said Shahul.