Teacher unions say they were 'not consulted about proposed reduced social distance of 0.5m'

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A teacher at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town wears a face mask while teaching.
A teacher at Rosendaal Senior Secondary in Delft, Cape Town wears a face mask while teaching.
Roger Sedres/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Five education unions say they have not been consulted about DBE's plan to reduce physical distancing in schools.
  • The unions are Naptosa, NATU, PEU, Sadtu and SAOU.
  • DBE says it will meet with the unions to clarify the matter.

Education unions say they have not been consulted about the Department of Basic Education's (DBE) plan to reduce physical distancing in primary schools.

"The teacher unions wish to record that they were not consulted in regard to the new proposed reduced social distance of 0.5m in primary schools," five teacher unions said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The five teacher unions are the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa  (Naptosa), the National Teachers' Union (NATU), the Professional Educators Union (PEU), the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the South African Teachers' Union (SAOU).

READ | Door handles, toilet paper - schools looted bare in Gauteng, KZN

After a meeting, the five unions confirmed they had been approached by the media to comment on the "intention of the DBE to approach Cabinet in regard to the possible reduction of social distancing in primary schools from 1m to 0.5m".

"This new development takes place after the publication of the new DBE Covid Directions on Saturday, 31 July 2021, that determine social distance as 1m.

"But, despite warnings from the teacher unions that 1m social distancing is not possible when all primary school learners return to school, it is clear, after two school days, that compliance with the 1m social distancing is virtually impossible when the traditional timetable is followed," the five unions stated.

READ | Covid-19: Motshekga concerned about physical distancing in primary schools

The unions believe there should be genuine consultation with the organised teaching profession - and there should be scientific evidence that the planned reduction will not lead to further infections among pupils, educators and members of the broader community.

"No scientific evidence, thus far, has been provided to the unions in connection with the acceptability of such a reduction.

Ensure

"The teacher unions further wish to record that we are in favour of a return to normality to ensure that the traditional timetables in schools may be reintroduced, but it cannot be at the expense of compliance with the required health and safety protocols that the Department of Health has insisted on since 26 March 2020," the unions added.

The unions have further advised schools that, where the one metre distance cannot be complied with, the schools should follow the deviation provisions as contained in the gazette and continue with the rotational timetable.

READ | Schools unable to maintain social distancing as teachers feel ‘overwhelmed’

Speaking to News24 on Wednesday afternoon, DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department had explored the plan as part of mitigating against learning losses, but the National Coronavirus Command Council and the Cabinet would make the final decision.

In addition, the department said it would follow the advice of the scientists.

"The department will continue to make proposals that the health experts must consider and provide advice that can help the sector. "It is important to note that there was initially a recommendation that this could be done, but it was then changed when the Delta variant came about. The department will meet the teacher unions to clarify the matter," Mhlanga concluded.

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