Covid cases don’t mean schools have to close

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Covid cases don’t mean schools have to close

There are hoops to jump through before they can be shut, and teachers must be at work regardless

Journalist
Pupils queue at a school feeding scheme in Gugulethu, Cape Town during lockdown. Teachers return to schools on Monday ahead of their opening for pupils on June 1.
Added safety Pupils queue at a school feeding scheme in Gugulethu, Cape Town during lockdown. Teachers return to schools on Monday ahead of their opening for pupils on June 1.
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

The closure of schools, in most cases, will not be necessary if a pupil or teacher tests positive for Covid-19.

This is according to a document titled “Standard operating procedure for the prevention, containment and management of Covid-19 in schools”, which was drawn up by the department of basic education.

The decision to close “will be school- and context-specific” and must be done according to departmental procedures.

A school where a pupil or staff members tested positive would be contacted by public health officials to identify people who had been in contact with the infected person.

“The health officials and relevant staff will conduct a risk-assessment and provide recommendations on the management of pupils and staff.”

School administrators were not allowed to close schools, and if they were closed they would still remain open for staff.

“This will allow educators to develop and deliver lessons and have access to teaching resources and materials remotely, thus maintaining continuity of teaching and learning,” the document states.

School management teams are urged to discourage pupils and staff from meeting at the homes of friends or at restaurants and shopping malls when schools are closed.

While pupils are at home, schools should implement e-learning plans and consult with district officials to see how face-to-face lessons could be converted into online lessons.

Teachers refusing to report for duty for fear of being infected with the virus at school are also warned that such conduct ‘amounts to an unlawful absence which must be dealt with in terms of the disciplinary code’.

The document cautions that “closing schools is a serious decision which may restrict the learners’ ability to acquire education”.

“The decision to direct learners to stay at home because of possible exposure to, or infection with Covid-19 should be justified by the available scientific evidence.”

Schools are also advised about the procedures to follow when a pupil appears ill or displays symptoms associated with Covid-19. These include:

  • Isolating the pupil from others until they can be assessed by a health professional;
  • Providing the pupil with a mask if they don’t have one;
  • Informing the parents or guardian of the child immediately; and
  • Calling the school nurse or the manager of the nearest health facility.

If a pupil has been exposed to someone who tests positive for the virus, he or she is required to be quarantined in their home for 14 days.

Teachers refusing to report for duty for fear of being infected with the virus at school are also warned that such conduct “amounts to an unlawful absence which must be dealt with in terms of the disciplinary code”.

“The onus is on the employee to demonstrate that the workplace poses a risk and is an unsafe space where transmission of the virus is possible and likely.”

However, school management teams are asked to encourage pupils and all staff, including teachers and support staff, to stay at home when they are sick, and where possible to allow staff to stay at home to care for sick family members.

The department wanted to make sure PPE was delivered before teachers and support staff could return.

School management teams are discouraged from giving out perfect attendance awards and incentives since these may encourage pupils and staff to come to school while sick.

The document also outlined the roles of school management teams, teachers and governing body members. These include:

  • Establishing a Covid-19 committee at school;
  • Placing signs or posters encouraging good hygiene practices;
  • Establishing hand-washing stations with soap and water within 5m of toilets;
  • Placing 60% alcohol-based hand sanitisers in each classroom, at entrances and exits, and at reception and the front office; and
  • Ensuring that cleaning staff clean and disinfect school buildings thoroughly and regularly.

Resistance

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga’s plans to get teachers back to school on Monday have been thrown into disarray after Mpumalanaga’s education department and the secretariats of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union in several provinces asked teachers not to return.

In a circular dated May 22, the Mpumalanga education department’s acting head of education, Jabulani Nkosi, said teachers “must only report to schools at a date still to be confirmed by the department”.

The department wanted to make sure personal protective equipment (PPE) was delivered before teachers and support staff could return.

“The department is working round the clock to ensure that deliveries are undertaken in keeping with the rules and regulations of Covid-19. For now, stay at home and stay safe,” Nkosi informed teachers.

Free State teachers will only be returning to school on Thursday, it emerged after a meeting between the provincial education department and the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa).

Naptosa in KZN said the delivery of PPE, including thermal scanners and cleaning material, had been ‘a complete disaster’.

Sadtu’s secretariats in Gauteng, the Northern Cape, North West and KwaZulu-Natal have advised its members not to go to school until all the Covid-19 precautionary measures have been implemented.

Sadtu’s Gauteng secretariat said the delivery of PPE for school management teams in Tshwane West and South has not been completed.

Sadtu’s secretariat in the Northern Cape said the last assessment report presented to the unions “clearly indicated that the provincial education department was not ready to open schools on Monday”.

Its North West secretariat said that as of Thursday 1,410 of the 1,621 schools had not been cleaned and disinfected.

It cited the example of a school with 37 staff that had received only eight masks.

The secretariat said screeners had not yet been appointed at the province’s schools and some did not have running water.

Naptosa in KZN said the delivery of PPE, including thermal scanners and cleaning material, had been “a complete disaster”.

“At this stage it is safe to say not all schools will have these items delivered by May 25,” is said.

Ben Machipi, general secretary of the Professional Educators Union (PEU), said the Western Cape had indicated they were ready to reopen schools and that teachers would be reporting for duty on Monday.

Limpopo had indicated that teachers would return on Tuesday, while other provinces had not issued circulars.

“The bottom line is that if the schools are not complying with the safety measures, teachers must not risk their lives and enter into such premises.”

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