The Department of Basic Education has announced strict safety measures to be put in place at schools once the phasing in approach of pupils resumes from 1 June.
Grade 7 and 12 pupils will be the first to return to school after being away for more than six weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday.
Motshekga held a media briefing in Pretoria outlining the state of readiness for schools reopening and what plans were in place to save the academic year.
While schools rush to prepare, and what lies ahead once the pupils return remains less clear, the department said it would be ensuring that the reopening does not contribute to the spread of the virus.
The department said it would ensure that, by the time pupils return, it would have sanitised classrooms and that masks, sanitisers and other personal protective equipment (PPE) would have been delivered to schools.
Motshekga said classes were already being cleaned in preparation for the return and that, once classes start, classrooms will be sanitised daily.
Pupils will also be screened daily before entering the premises.
The minister said PPE was already being delivered to schools in different provinces. These include sanitisers, masks, water and sanitation equipment.
Once teaching and learning resume, pupils will be provided with two cloth masks, which they will be expected to wash once they get home.
No sporting and extramural activities will be allowed in schools and, once lessons conclude, all pupils will be expected to return straight home.
Motshekga said different provinces had their own plans on how they would be ensuring safety in schools, mentioning that Gauteng would be recruiting brigades to assist with screenings.
"Other provinces are going to use extended public works people. Other provinces are going to use teachers because parents sometimes don't want strangers, people they don't know, in schools.
"School by school, province by province, will be working on screenings. Screening is going to be done differently," Motshekga said.
The department said it had also entered into an implementation protocol agreement with the Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation to ensure that no school would be reopening without water.
All schools with water supply shortages had been profiled.
Parents with children with comorbidities raised concerns and fears for their children returning to schools because they would be the most vulnerable and at high risk of contracting the disease. Addressing the issue, Motshekga said the department would be working with the health department, which would be issuing guidelines on how pupils with comorbidities would be managed.
Motshekga urged parents to declare if they have children with illnesses that would make them vulnerable to contracting the virus.
"Schools will work with parents to obtain the information, which needs to be treated with the utmost care. This matter is of paramount importance, and we appeal for cooperation in this regard," the minister said.
No parent would be forced to send their child back to school, Motshekga added, but homeschooling should be implemented in those cases, with the cooperation of the school.
The department said the virus had also forced the department to re-engineer the basic education system and implement measures to recover lost time due to the pandemic. The curriculum will be trimmed and sent to schools to plan around it.
Innovative methods will also be implemented to ensure the health and safety of pupils with regard to physical distancing. One of the ways the department will be doing this is by splitting the pupils being phased in into different classes, to avoid overcrowding.
The School Nutrition Programme will be aligned with the phasing in approach, and measures were being put in place to ensure that those pupils returning from 1 June will be receiving food. The people handling the food will be provided with gloves, aprons and face cloths.
"They (food handlers) have also been trained in terms of how to manage food differently, in the current environment, and indeed feeding will happen when the first phase comes in," Motshekga said.
The minister added that they were also working with the Department of Transport to ensure safety measures were in place for school transport.
Motshekga said the measures would be expanded on this week, and the guidelines would be posted on the department's website.