South Africa to begin phased re-opening of schools in June

By Loni Prinsloo for Bloomberg; Luke Daniel for The South African

South Africa will begin reopening schools from 1 June, allowing students to return in a phased approach in a continuing effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Classes will start nationally for students from grades seven and 12 – the final years of primary and high school respectively, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said in a televised address on Tuesday. Schools have been closed since 27 March, when the government introduced a nationwide lockdown to slow the pace of Covid-19 infections.

The South African government has added additional mobile classrooms and infrastructure such as sanitisation facilities and water tankers where needed to prepare schools to reopen. Teachers should report for duty on 25 May, while a new calendar will be gazetted soon and further information about when other grades resume will be made at a later date, Motshekga said.

Smaller special-needs institutions, and some private schools that are less crowded and better able to manage social distancing, won’t necessarily need to reopen in a phased manner that’s required at larger public schools, the minister said.

South Africa’s choice to resume education is in keeping with a number of other countries that have had more severe Covid-19 outbreaks and some that have had shorter lockdown periods. These countries include China, Denmark, Israel, Finland, France, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

In most cases, governments are introducing precautionary measures such as temperature checks, reduced class-sizes and spacing desks further apart.

Re-opening criteria

If pupils are to return, schools need to:

  • See the return of School Management Teams and teachers (on 25 May) which will oversee the school’s state of readiness
  • Sanitise all classrooms and facilities (to be completed daily as part of the Standard Operating Procedures)
  • Equip all school staff with personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Recondition classrooms to facilitate social distancing and limit movement
  • Procure a sufficient number of face masks ( to be worn at all times by all learners and staff)
  • Ensure access to running water and hand sanitisation stations
  • Ensure COVID-19 screening systems are in place

Operating procedures

The Standard Operating Procedures booklet, which schools would need to follow, includes:

  • Physical distances in classrooms, includes not more than 2 learners sharing desks
  • No hugging or handshaking
  • Direct contact must be avoided
  • Cloth masks to be worn by learners and teachers at all times
  • No mass public events. All sports matches, choral practices and festivals, eisteddfods are not permitted
  • Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing
  • Sanitise classrooms prior to the start of school day
  • Sanitise hands on entering of classrooms
  • Limit movement of learners between classes
  • No clustering of desks in classrooms
  • In addition, school staff will be provided with health and safety orientation sessions on how to help fight COVID-19 in classrooms.

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