Safety at schools: ‘Keep your distance and your pen’

Learners and teachers will not be allowed to share pens and pencils. And parents will be allowed to visit schools only when it’s absolutely necessary to do so. Learners who walk together to school will be encouraged to keep a safe distance from each other and classrooms will be cleaned at least twice a day. 

These are some of the guidelines that schools will have to adhere to when they reopen from June 8 to minimise the spread of the novel coronavirus

These guidelines are contained in the “Coronavirus Orientation Guidelines for schools: for teachers, support staff and learners on the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa” document, which the department published on its website last month. 

The first group of learners, in grades seven and 12, were expected back at school today, but after a statement from the department of basic education on Sunday evening, this has been delayed until June 8. 

Teachers were expected back on Monday May 25, but many of them had not returned, as provincial departments of education came out to say they were not yet ready to receive them. They are now expected to be at work this week to prepare schools for learners. 


The guidelines document says that “schools are potential risk areas for the spread of the virus” and that the guidelines have been developed to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading at schools. It further emphasises that hygiene and physical distancing at schools need to be strictly adhered to, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

It outlines that on the first day of school, principals and teachers will orientate learners on how to manage Covid-19 at school. They will also be orientated on the curriculum-recovery plan, be introduced to the reorganised timetable. and will be educated on physical distancing at school and when travelling to and from school. 

For example, according to the document, learners who use public transport to get to school will have to take the “responsibility” of practicing physical distancing to prevent or reduce the possibility of infection. The document also suggests that learners who walk together to schools must keep at least 1.5m apart from each other. 

The guidelines say frequently touched objects and surfaces should be cleaned hourly with diluted bleach disinfectant when in use, and that classrooms must be cleaned at least twice a day with a disinfectant. Learners and teachers must not share pens and pencils among themselves. 

Schools should also limit the number of visitors. And every person who comes to the school must have their temperature checked. The guidelines say visitors and staff with a fever will not be allowed on to the school premises. Learners with a temperature of more than 38°C will have to be kept in designated isolation space while the principal contacts the nearest public primary healthcare facility. 

“The health facility must be informed if a Covid-19 infection is suspected, so that they can make the necessary arrangements to receive and manage the patient safely to prevent contamination,” read the guidelines. 

The guidelines stipulate that when a learner displays symptoms of Covid-19 they should be isolated from other learners and staff until they are assessed by a health professional. The parents or guardians of the said learner must be informed “immediately”. 

The document further says that, should there be a positive case, a school might be closed at the recommendation of health officials. 

“Temporarily closing a school is a possible strategy to prevent or slow the continued spread of Covid-19 in the school community. School administrators are not expected to make decisions about dismissals or closure of schools and must follow the departmental procedures in this regard.”

According to the guidelines, schools might be closed for 14 days if there is a positive case. This would happen at the recommendation of the provincial department of health and the department of basic education.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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