By Annabelle Lee

As more Covid-19 cases are recorded across the Klang Valley, parents have begun to take extra precautions by not sending their children to school.

Citing concerns over the spread of the virus and lax enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs), they are adopting a “wait and see” approach before deciding when to let their children physically attend lessons.

According to parents and families Malaysiakini spoke to, some classes are now seeing attendance down to half or less than that. Despite the drop, not all schools appeared to have pivoted to online learning, resulting in working parents having to double up as teachers.

Sharifah Shahidah (above) pulled her teenage son from his public secondary school in Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya last Monday after she learned that some parents were aides to politicians and government officials who had campaigned in the recent Sabah state election.

Fuelled in part by the election, 10 schools in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Putrajaya have been hit with Covid-19 infections over the past three weeks.

Sharing her concern, parents of 22 of her son’s 35 classmates, too, did not send their children to school on Friday.

Sharifah also stopped sending her two younger sons to their public primary school in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur after noticing how physical distancing SOPs were only loosely followed, especially after school.

This week, the primary school saw attendance drop from about 77 percent on Monday to just 38 percent on Friday. According to her, so many parents have requested to pull their children out of school that teachers resorted to providing example permission letters.

“All the reasons provided (for students not attending class) were ‘cuti Covid-19’ (Covid-19 holiday).

“The teacher actually gave a template for parents to write letters asking for permission to not send students to school due to Covid-19 concerns,” she shared.

Similarly, Nur Aufa Johan said her family decided to stop sending her 11-year-old brother to his public primary school in Taman Megah, Petaling Jaya this week after hearing about positive cases at nearby schools.

On Friday, just six of his 41 classmates came to school.

“We heard the news about nearby schools with positive cases and that was frightening enough to request him to study from home,” she told Malaysiakini.

It was reported yesterday how none of the 800 morning session students at SK Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur attended school after two students tested positive for Covid-19. Only later was the school closed.

Too close to home

The number of daily new Covid-19 infections nationwide began swelling to triple digits on Oct 1 and peaked at 691 last Tuesday. Yesterday, 354 new cases were reported.

While a bulk of the infections have been concentrated in Sabah and Kedah, clusters have also cropped up in other states, some sparked by those returning from Sabah. Cases have been detected not just in schools but in public places like shopping malls, restaurants and banks across the Klang Valley.

Father of three Norman Said (above, left) decided to pull his 15-year-old daughter from school two weeks ago after the virus hit too close to home. He counted at least four recent cases in his area of Kuang, Gombak.

“Kuang is a very small community; there is a common 99 Speedmart (convenience store) that everybody goes to. And my daughter’s school is quite nearby.

“I guess it’s the fear, the fear that she may contract it from anyone moving around. You see many asymptomatic cases (and) you don’t know if they are carriers. I dare not take the risk,” he explained.

Despite living in different parts of the Klang Valley, Sofian Azahari Wahab and his siblings all agreed to keep their schoolgoing children home this week.

While no cases were detected near him in Cheras, the Putrajaya school where his niece attends was recently hit by two Covid-19 cases. Both his sister and niece are now waiting for results of their Covid-19 test while the school has been closed and sanitised.

Sofian felt the need to take extra precautions after he and his son, who has special needs, recently met his sister.

“I think I will feel comfortable sending him back to school when the daily new cases are below 100,” he said.

The two Covid-19 infections at Sekolah Kebangsaan Presint 8(1) in Putrajaya are linked to the Selasih cluster, sparked by an Election Commission official who had returned from Sabah.

Juggling teaching, working

While parents had no qualms about keeping their children home for their health and safety, they shared their struggle of having to work, parent and teach at the same time all over again.

Nur Aufa shared how her family members, especially her mother, had to chip in to homeschool her brother on top of their jobs this week.

“Our mother plays a big role in making sure he sticks to his schedule. Most of the time, she will sit with him and teach while simultaneously doing her own work […]

“I admire her so much for that will, patience and strength. I would have gone crazy. I try to help, but it’s nothing compared to what my mother is actually going through,” she shared.

Despite being metropolitan schools, some parents said teachers have not begun using online learning platforms like Google Classroom to ensure students who chose to stay home can keep up with their lessons.

More commonly utilised was the WhatsApp application.

Sharifah shared that a teacher of one of her son’s classes was using the simple messaging application to communicate daily lessons and homework to students.

Should her children need to continue staying home, the full-time working mother will need to implement a daily schedule like she did when schools were closed during the movement control order (MCO).

“Yes, I am definitely concerned (about needing to juggle). If it’s going to be much longer, then I have to have some plans put in place. This week was okay, I was just like ‘you can do whatever you want’. 

“But if it goes (on for) longer, then I have to think about how it was like during the MCO,” she said.

Similarly, Norman said his daughter’s teacher has not been using online learning platforms since after school reopened.

In the past two weeks, she has been studying on her own while her parents took turns to supervise her.

“Better safe than sorry, you know. Whatever comes with this, that is the burden.

“I rather do this than be sorry later on and find out that somebody is (Covid-19) positive at her school and some of her friends have contracted it.

“We have to make those sacrifices,” Norman said.

As with everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic this year has disrupted teaching and learning for thousands of students this year.

Schools nationwide were closed for more than three months and only gradually reopened in June. Public examinations, meanwhile, have either been postponed or cancelled.

Despite the existence of online learning programmes, their efficacy has been hampered by limited access to the internet and electronic devices, especially in rural and low-income households.