The New Normal: A guide to reopening schools (UPDATED)



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The New Normal begins on the 1st of June - are you ready?

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the easing of the national lockdown to Alert level 3 starting on the 1st of June 2020. Not only does this mean that businesses will be allowed to resume operations, but the gradual reopening of schools (starting with Grades 7 and 12) will be permitted as well.

The president said that the decision to reopen schools was guided by medical advice and follows consultations with all stakeholders.

Since the start of the lockdown, students have been attending virtual classes either offered by their respective institutions or by the department of education through different programs.  

Covid-19 has called for the re-invention of many global industries. With the educational sector being one of the most impacted, schools must adapt to ‘the new normal’ in order to ensure the safety of both the teachers and students while on the premises.

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, said in April that several non-negotiable measures needed to be put in place before schools could reopen. She also emphasized that no one will be forced to send their children to school if they are worried about safety.

Keep in mind that the more people a student or staff member interacts with (and the longer that interaction) the higher the risk of transmission. 

In broad terms, both in class and while outside, these are the proposed guidelines students must adhere to.

Offices and schools must develop a workplace plan, as outlined in regulation 16(6)(b) and Annexure E to the Regulations. 

Social distancing:

  • Practice physical distancing at all times.
  • In class, there can be no more than 2 students occupying a desk.
  • No physical contact such as hugging or handshaking at any time.
  • Extra classes should be arranged in small groups that maintain social distancing.
  • Teachers must discourage the sharing of items such as stationary, water bottles, food etc.

Virus prevention:

  • Schools must meet the requirements of proper sanitation, use and provision of personal protective equipment, sanitisers, hand washing soap, gloves, cloth masks and thermometers.
  • Schools can display posters in restrooms to remind students to wash their hands.
  • Students and teachers must each own at least two face masks to ensure ‘circulation’. When one cloth face mask is being washed, another one would be available to use.
  • Students and teachers must wear cloth face masks at all times
  • Mass events such as sports matches, music concerts and festivals are prohibited
  • Everyone will be expected to sanitise their hands before entering a classroom.
  • Each classroom must be sanitised before the start of each school day. 
  • Movement between classes will be limited
  • Schools must ensure ventilation systems operate properly or open windows when possible to increase circulation of outdoor air.
  • Students, teachers and other staff who display Covid-19 symptoms should not come to school
  • All learners, educators and support staff will receive proper orientation and training once schools reopen.

Screening and testing

1. Educators and learners will receive temperature checks before entering the premises. According to the Disaster Management Act, should an individual display symptoms, the following points apply:

  • the person may not enter the premises. If the person is already on the premises of a school or office, they must be isolated immediately and be required to make arrangements to be safely transported off the premises - either to be self-isolated or for a medical examination or testing;  in the case of a learner, the parent or guardian must be contacted, 
  • thereafter, the risk of transmission must be assessed, and the area - such as the official, educator or learner's workstation - must be disinfected, and
  • those who may be at risk must be referred for screening and any other appropriate measure to prevent possible transmission must be taken. 

2. Each school will receive a Standard Operating Procedures Booklet for educational purposes.

School nutrition

Everyone who handles food will be supplied with the required personal protective equipment such as gloves, aprons and cloth masks. These items have already been supplied as part of a basic health and hygiene package.

Student transport

  • Vehicles that transport children will undergo sanitisation prior to the start of all trips
  • Everyone must wear a mask and sanitise their hands before entering the vehicle.
  • Social distancing must be applied during transport as well. 

Mental Health

Psychologists and social workers have been allocated to schools across the country to support schools.

The minister said that the department is mindful of the needs of learners with disabilities adding “the DBE is working with provinces to ensure that special schools are adequately provided for in all the plans we have put together”.

Schools country-wide are receiving PPE equipment to ensure that staff will be ready for the school year to continue

All schools must adhere to the health and safety protocols put in place. Motshekga says that the department will work with more urgency to ensure that all schools are adequately prepared for the return of leaners to schools, “even though it will be under different conditions”.