COVID-19 Impact On The School

Teachers With Protective Masks (Coronavirus)


After my first article about the school, my plan was to write a series of articles on more specific items related to the school, the progress we are (hopefully) making, and the leadership lessons from this experience. It has been almost a full school year, and I have a lot of material to cover.

BUT, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over at Rajendra Lohia Vidya Mandir (RLVM) as it has with everything else globally. The school has essentially been closed as of March 19th.

When I returned from India to the US, at the end of February, the school was near the end of its academic year — only the CBSE Board Exams[1] for Grade 10 and 12 and the in-house year-end final exams for the other grades were left. Regular classes are not scheduled during this period, and students only come to write the exams and then go home.

The rate of escalation of the concerns and measures taken in India (and perhaps everywhere) due to COVID-19 was astonishing. Here is the timeline for the school:

End of February As I am returning to New York, we are monitoring the situation (and I am a bit apprehensive about my air travel), but no action for the school has been taken or suggested by the government or school boards.
March 5th to 7th We become more concerned, and we proactively start recommending that kids bring sanitizers and masks, wash their hands, and take other similar safety measures. We put up signs to educate the students on the virus, buy additional hand-sanitizers for school, and ensure washrooms have enough soap. Basic stuff.
March 8th to 11th The school is closed due to Holi celebrations. Nothing happens in the school and (maybe a bit alarmingly) most of India’s focus is diverted from Coronavirus (and safety measures like social distancing) for a few days to celebrate Holi.
March 12th to 14th Board exams are scheduled at the school and we follow CBSE guidance — which have not really changed except for allowing students to bring hand sanitizers and masks to the exams.
March 15th Over the weekend, myself as well as some staff and parents become more concerned and we take action by telling the Primary (Prep/Kindergarten to Grade 5) kids to no longer come to school for their remaining exams. We decide to give them their remaining exams as “take home”. The older kids still come to write their tests.
March 17th to 18th Two more CSBSE board exams are held, and we are requested to implement “social distancing” with the seating plans so the students sit further apart.
March 18th night We cancel all exams up to Grade 8 and decide to “promote” these students based on existing marks. Grade 9 and 11 will still have to write their two remaining exams when school reopens. CBSE also postpones all its remaining exams for Grade 10 and 12.
March 24th Prime Minister Modi declares a massive India-wide “Lockdown” from March 25th to April 15th!
Coronavirus Poster

It’s hard to believe that we went from a RLVM specific, precautionary action on March 15th (as mentioned above) to a total school shut down across Hathras (and likely India) on March 18th and finally a countywide “Lockdown” only a week later. What is important to note is that during this time, there was only one potential case of the COVID-19 in Hathras and about 600 across India.

As I write this, the school is shut (as is India), and we are evaluating interm plans day-by-day. While it is certain the school will not be able to open until post-April 15th, we do not know what further actions we will need to take nor what will be deemed necessary by the authorities. We do not know what will happen with the remaining CBSE examinations nor do we have an idea what the new school year will look like.

Leadership Lessons

To make this sensitive situation even more challenging, I am having to manage these events remotely from New York (which has become the COVID-19 epicenter of the US with 14,000 cases and growing fast), and of course, I should not try to travel back (nor could I) until this pandemic is behind us. I am getting lots of help from my Hathras based business partner and the staff, but at critical times as such, the actual leadership needs to be there — to participate, give guidance, and ease worries – regardless of time zone or distance separation.

While we did take several proactive steps around dealing with the threat of the virus, I have felt more like a follower in this situation than a leader: a follower in the sense, that we have primarily followed the government and school board directives.

However, I believe that this has been the correct leadership action. This is a global scale event which requires a consistent, coordinated response. We cannot make our own disconnected decisions for the school. We needed to support the broader local, nationwide, and worldwide efforts. Our priority was the health and safety or our students and staff, and we acted based on that. While, we also needed to ensure the current academic year was concluding appropriately and we were thinking of the new session, it was a time to appreciate the global scale of this pandemic and follow and support those efforts as they applied to the school.

[1] RLVM is affiliated with (certified by) Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). In India, the school boards hold nation-wide final exams for 10th and 12th standard classes. In Hathras, RLVM is one of the six certified testing centers for these exams for other CBSE schools in the region.

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