Covid-19: Teachers alarmed over schools reopening

Social distancing is a precondition for the reopening of schools, says union

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Photo of a school
Teachers are concerned that social distancing requirements will not be implemented when schools re-open. Photo: Liezl Human

Teachers have expressed alarm that schools might reopen without sufficient social distancing measures in place.

David Millar, provincial chief executive officer of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA), told GroundUp his union rejects any attempt to waiver the social distancing requirements in schools.

It’s a “precondition for the reopening of schools,” he said. “This condition is a priority.”

But how social distancing will work in classrooms is unclear.

Minister Angie Motshekga announced on 30 April that the Department would “adopt a phased approach in the reopening of schools”. Motshekga said plans for social distancing included students not sharing desks, and no direct contact.

But during a meeting between NAPTOSA and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) last week it was confirmed that government is organising the waiver of the social distancing requirements in classrooms due to lack of space.

Sceptical teacher

A teacher GroundUp spoke to in the Western Cape said that social distancing cannot be applied in classrooms at his school and many others, because there’s simply no space.

“Teachers will have to do temperature screening of students every day before they enter school,” he said. “We are now nurses as well.”

He also expressed the following concerns:

  • The department wants classes to be deep-cleaned daily but will not provide extra money for cleaning staff.
  • The provincial department will ask for a change in the law to allow more students onto buses and taxis than the current restrictions allow.
  • Children crowd around water taps at schools.
  • Social distancing is impossible when feeding children at some schools, including his, because of limited space in the area where food is collected.
  • No tuckshops are allowed but most of the children at his school rely on the tuckshop for food.
  • Infections are increasing, and tens of thousands of learners moving around will speed up the infection rate.

It was also established during the meeting between the WCED and NAPTOSA that education staff may not refuse to go to work, unless they have comorbidities.

Millar said that NAPTOSA did not support the department’s decision to have teachers screen learners. “Education sector employees have a job description. Screening is not one of them,” he said. “It may be easy to hold an infra-red digital thermometer but this can be no excuse to get staff at schools to perform this task.”

Millar said the screening and sanitising process should done by the health department not school staff, since there are not enough staff in schools to do this on a regular basis.

Schools reopening

Grade 7 and 12 learners are provisionally scheduled to return to school on 1 June. Each school has to submit a plan of preparation for its reopening to its Education District Office.

Schools will receive non-contact thermometers, face masks for every teacher and learner, and hygiene packs including hand sanitisers, soap, and gloves. The WCED confirmed to NAPTOSA that schools would not be allowed to open without receiving these.

GroundUp did not receive responses from either the provincial or national education departments to our questions by the time of publication.

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TOPICS:  Covid-19 Education

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