WCED: ‘Preparations for return of learners to schools are going well’

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Schools Source: Google Images

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) says the preparation to receive learners in schools is progressing well.

This comes one day after Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced the plan for the reopening of schools. Motshekga said Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners will return to school on 1 June.

Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer said, although the pandemic is unprecedented and there is no blueprint as to how to handle it, there would be huge consequences if schools remained closed.

“There are huge disadvantages of closing schools. Parents cannot work, children miss out on important parts of the curriculum which can affect the rest of their schooling and their future earning capacity, and the poor are affected the most,” she said.

PREPARATION OF SCHOOL PREMISES

In preparation for reopening, the WCED placed orders for school safety and hygiene packs, the contents of which will be received at schools by principals in the coming week. This includes two masks for every learner and staff member in all public schools, hand sanitiser and liquid soap, cleaning materials and non-contact digital thermometers.

Principals will also oversee the thorough cleaning of schools in preparation for school staff and learners to arrive. The cleaning materials being delivered to schools include bleach, which is recommended by both South African and international health authorities as the means to be used for disinfecting surfaces.

“According to the NICD, the virus does not live longer than 72 hours on a surface and is not airborne. Simply put, if there have been no people in the buildings, the virus cannot be there,” said Schäfer.

LEARNERS AND STAFF WITH COMORBIDITIES

An interim list of conditions that present a risk for staff and learners as “comorbidities”, such as hypertension, diabetes and TB, has been sent to schools. According to Schafer, this list specifies in detail which conditions are regarded by health experts as high risk, and how they are measured.

“Principals and SMTs will be compiling confidential lists of learners and staff with these conditions,” she said.

Parents whose children have comorbidities will be offered the opportunity to oversee their children’s learning at home with the support of the Department over the next few months, or until restrictions are lifted. A letter will be sent to schools with a form for parents to sign indicating their intention to keep their child at home and to oversee their learning.

SCREENING OF STAFF AND LEARNERS FOR COVID-19 SYMPTOMS

Schäfer said the issue of screening has caused concern amongst some staff members, who feel that they are not able to screen others because they are not health professionals.

“Screening is a simple process that involves asking an individual some basic questions as to whether they are experiencing any symptoms, and taking their temperature with a non-contact digital thermometer pointed at the forehead,” she said.

“This requires no medical expertise — in fact, many of our residents will have already encountered ordinary shop, bank and workplace staff performing just this as Level 4 economic activity has expanded. Detailed guidelines on this process have been sent to schools,” she added.

Schäfer said the most practical solution is for staff at schools to undertake this task.

WCED HAS NO INTENTION OF RELAXING PHYSICAL DISTANCING IN SCHOOLS

According to the WCED, there will be ample space for classes to be spread out to maintain the required 1.5m distance between learners for the first grades returning.

“The difficulty arises when more grades return to school, and space becomes a problem. One of the key tasks of our returning Senior Management Teams is to develop plans to teach in a new way, whilst the appropriate physical distance is maintained,” she said.

“Let us be clear; we have no intention of relaxing the physical distancing requirement at schools,” she added.

TRIMMED DOWN CURRICULUM IN SCHOOLS

According to Schäfer, there is no way that the curriculum in its original form could be “caught up” before the end of the year, without putting further pressure on teachers, parents and children. Hence, the DBE has trimmed the curriculum to ensure that the essential concepts required for progression to the next grade are taught.

“This does not apply to matric, though, which will proceed as normal, with catch-up plans to be implemented. We do not plan to have “matric camps” in the Western Cape, as per some media reports,” she said.

SAFE TRANSPORT FOR LEARNERS 

For learners who rely on learner transport schemes, the WCED says it has been engaging with service providers to ensure that they institute the appropriate sanitation measures.

“Detailed guidelines on these measures will be issued to providers and schools soon,” said Schäfer.

Those who are using public transport must follow the guidelines as set out in the regulations published by the Minister of Transport:

  • Minibus taxis may only be 70% full (11 people including the driver in a 16-seater minibus);
  • Busses may only be 50% full;
  • Driver and marshals must wear a mask;
  • Hand sanitiser must be available for passengers; and
  • The vehicle must be sanitised — especially handles, armrests and handrails — before and after every trip.

Dial *134*234# to report any public transport operators not following these regulations in the Western Cape.

“These are some of the key issues that we are addressing. Schools were sent detailed lists of steps that need to be taken to prepare, and more will follow shortly, including how a school must deal with cases of COVID-19 in a school. We shall publish more detail regarding that once the document is finalised,” added Schäfer.