Can classrooms ensure social distancing when Covid-19 lockdown ends?


Many parents may not be sending their children back to school once schooling resumes for fear they may contract the coronavirus in the classroom.

Reacting to the department of basic education’s proposed scenarios on pupils’ seating arrangements in the classroom‚ which were published in the Sunday Times this week‚ parents took to Facebook to voice their concerns over social distancing.

The department’s discussion document — titled '“Draft post Covid-19 lockdown recovery plan”' — states that the school must ensure that space with reference to social distancing‚ no bodily contact and hygiene and sanitising requirements, were given attention when pupils were admitted.

One of the scenarios proposed was that a 1m distance between pupils’ chairs would be acceptable if it were applied with strict precautionary measures such as temperature checking‚ face masks‚ gloves and sanitisers.

Many parents were willing to allow their children to return in 2021 and repeat the grade‚ rather than risk their lives by allowing them back into the classroom in 2020.

Luvo Ndlumbini said there should be no schooling until Covid-19 had been adequately dealt with: “My kids are taking a gap year; I am not sending my kids back to school until life is better.”

Basil Manuel‚ executive director of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa)‚ questioned how social distancing would take place at overcrowded schools.

“A parent from Phoenix in Durban asked me if it was possible for him to decide to keep his child at home when school reopens because he was afraid‚” he said.

Manuel said teachers with hypertension and gout had also been calling him to inquire whether they should report for duty as they were “immune-compromised”.

“We have no clue how many of our teachers have HIV/Aids — they are the most severe cases of immune-compromised people‚” he said.

Matakanye Matakanye‚ general secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB)‚ confirmed that several parents had told him they would not be sending their children to school because of fears for their safety.

Pupils are compelled to attend school until the end of grade 9 or after they turn 15.

According to the document‚ social distancing will be one of the biggest challenges for provincial education departments to implement. “Our classrooms are not always able to accommodate the requirements in terms of social distancing‚” it warned.

The problem is‚ how can the department of basic education implement social distancing in classrooms?

According to department regulations‚ the acceptable norm for a class is 40 pupils‚ except for grade R‚ where the ideal is 30 pupils. The optimum classroom size should be 60m2‚ except for grade R classrooms‚ which should be 80m2.

The document states that the generally accepted norm for social distancing in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic is 1.5m.

“The problem is‚ how can the department of basic education implement social distancing in classrooms?”

There were 12.4-million pupils and 407‚000 teachers at the country's 23‚076 public schools in 2019.

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