The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has confirmed that every day, about 20 schools are closed in the province due to issues including COVID-19 infections.
“This includes those closed for cleaning following a positive case of COVID-19, closure due to intimidation or threats from protestors, and other issues,” the department said.
Despite this, the WCED said that overall, the reopening of schools has been successful.
“Learners have adapted well to the safety protocols in the ‘new normal’ of a global pandemic, and school staff have put an incredible amount of effort into getting schools ready in time.”
Western Cape education minister Debbie Schafer said she wanted to thank all the schools that have quietly and professionally supported, even when anxious, the decision to continue teaching and learning, and have taken the steps asked of them to ensure safety at schools.
“They have certainly shown the teamwork that is crucial to navigate through this pandemic, which is affecting us all,” said Schafer.
However, the department noted that disruptions by protestors over the past two weeks have been concerning.
“We have unfortunately had a number of disruptions by protestors over the past two weeks, whose actions we have condemned,” said the WCED.
“No one may prevent a learner who wants to go to school from accessing their constitutional right to education.”
“Where concerns have been raised with the Department, these have been addressed cooperatively,” the department said.
Three considerations when considering a closure
The WCED highlighted that not all confirmed cases of COVID-19 require a school to be closed.
Instead, three important factors will be considered during the decision-making process.
“Firstly, the areas where the staff member/learner has physically been present need to be disinfected,” said the WCED.
“For example, if a staff member has only been in one or two rooms, it is possible for schooling to continue by cordoning off and sanitising those rooms.”
“On the other hand, if the staff member has been all over the school, more areas will need to be sanitised which may require a temporary closure.”
Secondly, the department said, the date that the infected individual was last at the school is considered.
“The NICD and Department of Health have told us that the virus does not survive on surfaces for more than 72 hours,” it said.
“If a staff member was last present at a school more than a week before, sanitising a surface is not required.”
Lastly, the number of direct contacts that took place must be considered.
To do this, the difference between direct contact and casual contact must be distinguished.
“Direct contact involves being very close to someone physically or giving a hug or a handshake. It is important that we keep direct contact to a minimum as required by physical distancing protocols,” said the WCED.
“Just being in the same room as a confirmed case, when maintaining the 1.5m physical distancing requirement, is considered casual contact.”
“Casual contacts do not need to isolate, but they should be monitored for any symptoms of COVID-19.”
On Sunday 5 July, Education minister Angie Motshekga said that 968 schools have had to close at some point due to coronavirus cases.
2,740 teachers and 1,260 learners have been reported as infected.
“Almost all schools are going to have to adopt innovative timetables and spacing arrangements to accommodate the return of more learners,” Motshekga said.
“We are painfully aware that a lot of school days have been lost and for some grades even more [time] will be lost.”