With just a week to go until Grade 7 and 12 learners return to the classroom under level 3 of lockdown, preparations are underway at schools across the country to ensure the safe return of pupils, come 1 June 2020.
The doors of learning were shut as the country went on lockdown from 27 March 2020 in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has to date infected 22 583 South Africans and claimed the lives of 429 people.
As the country marks day 60 of lockdown, delivery of personal protective equipment is underway, school desks are being deep cleaned and spaced out, in line with the social distancing protocols of a 1.5m distance between pupils.
In Gauteng, School Management Teams (SMTs) have made their return to schools to pave the way for the return of teachers.
Providing an update on the return of SMTs and teachers, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said the province's schools are ready to open their doors to teachers.
"We are preparing to welcome our Grade 7s and 12s from 1 June as Gauteng and thus far, all the measures we needed to put in place for all our Senior Management Teams have been met to the latter.
"We are now moving to the next phase to welcome teachers. After we welcome teachers, we will move to the most critical stage, which is stage 3 of welcoming learners. We will then be in a position to observe whether we can bring in other grades," said the MEC.
Following the successful completion of deep cleaning, delivery of PPE and sanitisers at the various schools, Lesufi said by this Friday, all teachers should be at school.
"From our readiness point of view, we just want to ensure that the School Management Teams are back and receive the PPEs and on the basis of that, teachers will come back.
"We have 2 800 schools in Gauteng and we will get stock of how many schools have opened and then we will update you on the daily return of teachers," he said.
GDE to hire replacement teachers
On teachers that are not fit or ready to start, the MEC said these teachers have been given forms to fill in to declare their circumstances, which will allow the provincial department to kick-start the process of finding replacement teachers.
With many parents anxious about the return of children to schools, Lesufi urged them to make use of e-learning materials made available by schools as an alternative.
"We want to emphasise this one: there must be no parent that... would rather have their child repeating a grade because they are scared. We say use all the channels that we have made available because we don't want a generation that will lose academic programme because of COVID-19.
"Besides, we don't know how long COVID-19 will be with us," Lesufi said.
Special needs schools
On the reopening of special needs schools, Lesufi said the sector may possibly follow a different approach, as the schools are in their nature small, with a limited number of pupils.
"We might open them completely. They have a few numbers and you may find that the entire school population is low.
"We are guided by the sector. For example, their PPEs are different because in some instance, touching can't be eliminated completely but we have procured their PPEs," Lesufi said.
KZN postpones return to school
In KwaZulu-Natal, the Provincial Education Department has temporarily postponed the return of School Management Teams and teachers to Thursday, 28 May 2020.
This follows the assessment of cleaning and delivery of PPE to schools.
"It has since been discovered that although a sufficient quota of PPEs has been delivered to districts and circuits, it has not yet been transported to schools where it is needed most," said the Provincial Department.
The postponement, however, does not apply to circuit managers and principals, who are key to ensuring delivery and receipt of PPEs at school level.