Unions Reject 0.5m Social Distancing For Primary Schools

Unions Reject 0.5m Social Distancing For Primary Schools

Teacher's unions are unhappy with the new 0.5m social distancing rules for primary schools and are requesting an urgent meeting with the Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga concerning this. 



South African primary school learners have all returned to schools and the full capacity has raised issues in terms of social distancing, the education department now wants to reduce the distance between learners from 1m to 0.5m in the classrooms in order to accommodate more learners. 

Teacher's Unions, National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), National Teachers Union (Natu), Professional Educators Union (PEU), South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) have all rejected the new 0.5m social distancing rule in primary schools. They say that they were not consulted by the  education authorities on their intention to change social distancing from 1m to 0.5m between pupils in primary schools. 

The Unions released a joint statement in which they said that the new evelopment took place after the publication of the new DBE Covid-19 Directions, on Saturday, July 31, that determines social distance as being 1m.

“But, despite warnings from the teacher unions that 1m social distancing is not possible when all primary school pupils return to school, it is clear that — after two school days – compliance with the 1m social distancing is virtually impossible, when the traditional timetable is followed," read the statement. 

The unions say that the move to 0.5m of social distancing must be supported by scientific evidence to show that it could not increase the risk of increased infections within the school community. They say that no such evidence has been provided to them. 

“It is our contention that this matter must be the subject of genuine consultations with the organised teaching profession, and that it must be supported by scientific evidence that the planned reduction will not lead to further infections among pupils, educators, and members of the broader community,” said the unions. 

Basic Education Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga says that the new social distancing rule will first be deliberated by medical experts and the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and then a final decision must be made by the Cabinet. 

"It is not something that the Minister is pushing ahead with, but as the Minister of Basic Education she has a responsibility to continue to seek solutions that are going to help us mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the schooling system," says Mhlanga. 

He says that schools who were unable to accommodate all its learners have returned to a rotational system to ensure that they comply with the health and safety protocols. He says that a risk-adjusted differentiated strategy is needed in order to return to normality within schools. 

Mhlanga says that the department has consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) regarding the 0.5m social distancing rule. However, the co-chairperson of the MAC Professor Koleka Mlisana spoke to eNCA about the new social distancing rule saying that it was not a good idea. 

Mhlanga says that the proposal must still go through many parties before a decision can be made on whether it should be implemented or not. 

Concerning the unions not being consulted on the matter he says that the department and its sector first had to deliberate the consideration before they could take a formal consultation to the teacher's unions. He insists that no decisions will be made without consulting all of the rleevant stakeholders first.

"So the decisions that we make must be carefully thought through and they would have been a product of consultation before any implementation can take place," said Mhlanga. 

Unions say that while they are in favour of the traditional timetables in schools being reintroduced they do not think it should be at the expense of complying with the required health and safety protocols that the Department of Health has insisted on since March 26, 2020.

“Our advice to schools, in the interim, is that where the 1m social distancing cannot be complied with, the schools should follow the deviation provisions as contained in the Gazette, and continue with rotational timetabling.

“This is done in the best interest of the child, educators and the community, and to ensure that schools do not become super-spreaders, but rather the barriers against transmission of Covid-19,” said the unions' statement. 




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