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School principals and cleaners back at work as Western Cape aims for June 1

School principals and cleaners back at work as Western Cape aims for June 1.
School principals and cleaners back at work as Western Cape aims for June 1.
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com

Nearly every school principal and cleaner in the Western Cape has returned to work to prepare for the arrival of pupils from June 1.

After basic education minister Angie Motshekga's announcement on Tuesday about the gradual reopening of schools, education MEC Debbie Schäfer said preparations in the Western Cape were progressing well amid understandable anxiety.

About 95% of principals and 94% of cleaners were back at work, she said, adding: “We cannot keep schools closed indefinitely.”

Safety and hygiene equipment being delivered to schools within the next week would include two masks for every pupil and staff member, hand sanitiser, 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,” said Schäfer. “The cleaning materials being delivered to schools include bleach, which is recommended by both South African and international health authorities for disinfecting surfaces.”

A list of comorbidities, such as hypertension, diabetes and TB, had been sent to schools, and parents whose children had them would be “offered the opportunity to oversee their children’s learning at home with the support of the department [of education] over the next few months, or until restrictions are lifted”.

Staff with comorbidities would need to provide a medical report about their condition, after which appropriate working arrangements or leave would be considered.

Schäfer said school staff would be asked to screen pupils and colleagues by asking questions about symptoms and taking their temperature.

“This requires no medical expertise,” she said, and if staff did it, it would minimise the extra people on school premises. “It is important that schools devise a method to implement this as quickly as possible, to minimise loss of teaching time.”

With the phased return of pupils, physical distancing would be simple initially. “The difficulty arises when more grades return to school, and space becomes a problem,” said Schäfer.

“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.

“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, uses of school halls as classrooms, or any of the many helpful proposals we have received from officials and the public alike.”

Schäfer said the curriculum had been trimmed “to ensure that the essential concepts required for progression to the next grade are taught”.

She added: “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.”

Schools had been 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.”

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