Primary school children will return to class full time after the June holidays, but parents and teachers are worried about the risks.
The move, gazetted on Saturday May 29 by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, also applies to pupils at special-needs schools.
Schools returning to the normal timetable must, where possible, stick to physical distancing. Standard Covid-19 safety measures still apply and schools are advised that teaching can be done outside the classroom as long as those measures are followed.
Schools unable to return to the traditional timetable must notify education officials of their reasons for this and detail the steps they have taken to return to full-time schooling.
Western Cape Education Department spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said 124 schools in the province were already back at full capacity.
Charnelle Hector, a Grade 7 teacher at Belmore Primary School, is worried about how pupils will stay 1.5 metres apart from one another when there isn’t space to do so.
“I am conflicted and concerned. How are we going to maintain Covid-19 protocols, especially social distancing? As much as I would love all my learners to be back at school full time, I just don’t know how we are going to manage whilst facing a third wave as well,” she said.
After Ms Motshekga had her Covid-19 vaccination on Tuesday June 1, she said she supported calls for teachers to get the jab but admitted there was no firm date yet for that to happen.
“The minister of health has committed that as soon as he gets certainty regarding the availability of the vaccines, he will prioritise front-line workers. Whether it’s on a certain date in June, we hope so, but I can’t commit myself here and say we have agreed on this date with the minister,” she said.
“I’ve raised the issue with the minister of health, and the cabinet is very supportive. There are plans to make sure that not only teachers but all front-line workers – your teachers, police, and home affairs people – are being prioritised,” she said.
Lansdowne mother Caryn Jacobs said it made no sense to send pupils back to full-time schooling as a third wave loomed and she feared for her daughter’s health.
“They could’ve done this when the numbers were low and decreasing and adjusted it again now with a third wave looming. It is far too risky. Teachers haven’t been vaccinated yet either,“ she said.
Dwayne Evans, spokesman for Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, said children were less likely to contract Covid-19, less likely to spread it, less likely to develop severe Covid-19 and less likely to die from it.
“Covid-19 is more likely to be contracted by someone that has comorbidities and children don’t have comorbidities. They also have less receptors for Covid-19 to bind on, which makes it less likely to contract the disease,” he said.