Officials to inspect Covid-19 safety regulations at schools

The closed gate at Fish Hoek High School.

School principals and staff could face disciplinary action if staff or pupils flout the Western Cape Education Department’s Covid-19 safety regulations.

Education officials will be visiting the schools to check on them, but each school’s circumstances will be considered and support given where needed, says Kerry Mauchline, spokeswoman for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer.

Pupils have been returning to school in phases following the government’s latest school shutdown. Matrics returned on Monday August 3, and Grade 7s returned on Tuesday. Grades R, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10 and 11 return on Monday August 24 and Grades 5 and 8 on Monday August 31.

However, schools could let more grades return if they had the necessary safety measures, Ms Mauchline said.

WCED Covid-19 regulations say all teachers, pupils and support staff must be screened before entering the school by answering five questions, have their temperatures checked with a non-contact thermometer, and comply with physical distancing throughout the day.

Each classroom should have a sanitation station and pupils and teachers must sanitise or wash their hands before and after entering the classroom.

Desks should be spread out for physical distancing, and all staff and pupils must wear a mask at school, on the way to school, and in public as per national government regulations.

The WCED provided two cloth masks to every staff member and pupil, Ms Mauchline said.

Cloth masks were preferred, but teachers could also wear disposable ones.

Provincial Department of Health guidelines favoured cloth masks, she said, and teachers who had difficulty projecting their voice through the mask could remove it when speaking but should wear a face shield and keep their distance from the pupils.

This contradicts the recommendation of the US Centers for Disease Control, which notes that a face shield is no substitute for a mask and is primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it, and “it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer. There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control.”

Fish Hoek High School principal Gavin Fish said further closure of schools was counterproductive. Many pupils and parents wanted to return to normality.

He applied to allow more grades to return to school earlier. His Grades 10 and 11 returned on Wednesday August 5. The Grade 9s were due back yesterday, Wednesday August 12, and the Grade 8s are expected to return on Wednesday August 19.

“Our deviation has allowed us to return the classes to school earlier than stipulated on grounds of our Covid preparedness,” he said.

Several teachers at the school used face shields in the classroom as it was difficult to talk while wearing a mask, he said.

Pupils sanitised their hands on entering the classroom, desks and chairs were sanitised after every lesson, and class sizes were halved for physical distancing, he said.

Fish Hoek Primary School spokeswoman Megan Merifield said the WCED had allowed it to let all grades return on Tuesday August 11.

“Our biggest challenge is the uncertainty caused around the Covid-19 pandemic, but, together with our Fish Hoek Primary School families, we will endure this period with care and equanimity,” she said.

Muizenberg High School principal Leonie Jacobsen said a lot of her pupils relied on public transport, but many buses and trains were not yet fully operational. The school has changed class timetables to make physical distancing possible.

Matrics attend daily; Grades 10 and 11 attend twice a week; and Grades 8 and 9 will return as a full grade once a week and then the grades will be split for one other day in the week. Every venue is sanitised immediately after use and pupils are seated 1.5 metres apart.

“We modified some of our larger venues, such as the hall to accommodate classes larger than 35,” she said.

“We are extremely proud of our pupils for the mature way they cope with the protocols, and the staff and pupils have a strong sense of safety at school.”

The Echo approached several other schools for comment, but they didn’t respond by the time of going to print.

If you experience any flu-like symptoms, call the Western Cape government Covid-19 Hotline at 021 928 4102.