Southern suburbs teachers and principals are preparing for the phased reopening of schools, starting on Monday, with Covid-19 top of their minds.
Schools nationwide have been closed for more than two months since the lockdown started.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday May 19 that schools would reopen in phases from Monday June 1 with Grade 7s and matrics in the first wave.
The announcement drew mixed reaction. Some fear schools will become breeding grounds for Covid-19; others say children can’t miss more school.
Ms Motshekga said lockdown was never meant to stop Covid-19 infections but to buy time for the health system to prepare for the pandemic, by flattening the curve of the rate of infections. The country could return to high levels of lockdown, she added, should the situation deteriorate following the reopening of schools.
Ms Motshekga said her department was ready to reopen schools safely. Trained personnel would screen pupils at the school gates and personal protective equipment (PPE) and related gear were being issued to schools across the country.
Speaking to the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the country could be dealing with Covid-19 for the next two years, and children could not miss two years of school.
The Department of Basic Education has trimmed the curriculum to teach essential concepts required for progression to the next grade.
Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schafer said the province’s school principals had received orders this week of school-safety and hygiene packs, including two masks for each pupils and staff member, hand sanitiser and liquid soap, cleaning materials and non-contact digital thermometers.
Principals were overseeing thorough cleaning of schools in preparation for their reopening, she said.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the virus does not live longer than 72 hours on a surface and is not airborne. Ms Schafer said staff and pupils should be screened daily. Some teachers were scared to screen pupils, she added, because they were not health professionals, but it was a “simple process” that involved asking an individual
whether they were experiencing any symptoms and taking their temperature with a non-contact digital thermometer pointed at the forehead. “This requires no medical expertise.”
Westlake Primary School’s teaching staff returned on Monday. They were screened and started training to prepare for the return of the Grade 7s.
The teachers were shown how to perform the daily screening on pupils and they also set desks apart within the physical distancing guidelines. The school is also being thoroughly cleaned.
Principal Landie Diamond said: “We are doing everything we can to ensure that no staff members or children will be at risk. We cannot afford that, and therefore we are bending over backwards to ensure that we play our role.”
Wynberg Boys’ High School teaching staff also returned on Monday; with management back from Monday May 13, according to principal Jan de Waal.
He said: “Through collaboration, the four Wynberg schools (Wynberg Girls’ High, Wynberg Girls’ Primary, Wynberg Boys’ High and Wynberg Boys’ Primary) have secured the necessary equipment and consumables required for adherence to the detailed health and safety protocols provided by the various state departments.”
The phased return of pupils, while not ideal, was a move in the right direction, he said.
Online learning and remote teaching would continue for those grades at home until such time as they could return.
“We know that it must be extremely frustrating for those families who still face the prospect of remote learning for a considerable period. We ask you all to remain positive and enjoy this unprecedented time with your family,” he said.
Bergvliet High School teacher Sian Petrie said she feared returning to school because of Covid-19 but looked forward to checking on her pupils as she worried about how they were coping without the structure school provided.
“I will teach my seniors at school and continue with online lessons for my juniors at home. My day will start at 6.45am, as I report to school to make sure I scan temperatures and screen children. My day will end when the last WhatsApp is answered. I get messages at 2.30 in the morning sometimes from kids who only have access to night-time data.”