Schools reopening: Western Cape prepping for 'unprecedented' task

2020-05-20 21:23
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Schools in the Western Cape are being urgently prepared to receive their first learners.

But, as it prepares for safe learning, the provincial education department has cautioned that the challenge is "unprecedented". 

Western Cape Minister of Education Debbie Schafer on Wednesday admitted: "This is an extremely difficult time for all of us. We need cool heads and discipline in implementing these safety measures. And it will take a monumental team effort to make the changes that we need to make to deal with this pandemic.

"I would like to thank the 95% of principals and 94% of cleaners, who have reported for duty this week, to start preparing our schools. Together we will get through this."

Schafer then outlined a long list of crucial measures being put in place in her province:  

Preparation of school premises 

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has ordered school safety and hygiene packs - "the contents of which will be received at schools by principals over the coming week", Schafer said.

"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."

Schafer added: "According to the NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases), 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."

Learners and staff with comorbidities

"An interim list of conditions that present a risk for staff and learners with comorbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes and TB, has been sent to schools. This list specifies in detail which conditions are regarded by health experts as high risk, and how they are measured.  Principals and SMTs (senior management teams) will be compiling confidential lists of learners and staff with these conditions," Schafer 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."

READ | This is how some of Gauteng schools are preparing ahead of the return of pupils on 1 June

The WCED also has plans in place for staff with these conditions. 

"They will need to provide a medical report on the nature and duration of the illness. Appropriate work arrangements and/or potential leave may then be considered," Schafer advised. 

Screening of staff and learners for symptoms

"The issue of screening has caused concern among 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."

Schafer said this required 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. In their view, the most practical solution is for staff at schools to undertake this task, to be done every day with every child and staff member.  Schools must devise a method to implement this.

"If there is only one person to do this, it will take up much-needed time for teaching. In addition, if school staff do it, it minimises risks of additional people coming onto school premises."

Physical distancing 

The all-important subject of physical distancing also has measures to attain: "As grades are due to return in phases, there will be ample space for classes to be spread out to maintain the required 1.5m 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, while the appropriate physical distance is maintained," Schafer said. 

ALSO READ | What you need to know: 9 things from Motshekga's schools reopening briefing

"Let us be clear: we have no intention of relaxing the physical distancing requirement at schools. When this maximum number is exceeded in the phased return, we are currently determining which option will be implemented – be it grades attending class on alternate days, use of school halls as classrooms, or any of the many helpful proposals we have received from officials and the public alike. But we will not reduce or remove the physical distancing requirement." 

Curriculum 

Schafer said there was "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. The Department of Basic Education has, therefore, 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."

Transport 

For those who rely on the learner transport scheme, the department has engaged with service providers on appropriate sanitation measures. Detailed guidelines will be provided soon. 

Learners using public transport have been advised they would need to follow the guidelines as set out in the regulations published by the Minister of Transport.

These include that minibus taxis may only be 70% full (11 people, including the driver in a 16-seater minibus); buses may only be 50% full; the driver and marshals must wear a mask; hand sanitiser must be available for passengers; vehicles must be sanitised before and after every trip.

Concerned parents can dial *134*234# to report any public transport operators not following these regulations in the Western Cape. 

Read more on:    cape town  |  education  |  coronavirus  |  transport
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