A joint statement released by five teachers union revealed that the unions were apprehensive about the DBE’s intentions to reduce the social distancing parameters as recommended by the National Coronavirus Command Council.
The five teacher unions include; the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, the Professional Educators Union, the National Teachers Union and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie.
“The teacher unions further wish to record that we are in favour of a return to normality to ensure that the traditional timetables in schools may be reintroduced, but it cannot be at the expense of compliance with the required health and safety protocols that the Department of Health has insisted on since 26 March 2020,” the unions said.
The unions have jointly requested an urgent meeting with the DBE after it was not consulted by the DBE about this decision.
“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 learners, educators and members of the broader community.
“No scientific evidence thus far has been provided to the unions in connection with the acceptability of such a reduction,” the statement read.
On July 31, the DBE published amended Covid-19 direction that social distancing at schools would be kept at 1metre.
The unions said that this direction was issued despite them warning the education department that 1m social distancing is not possible when all primary school learners return to school.
“It is clear after two school days that compliance with the 1m social distancing is virtually impossible when the traditional timetable is followed,” the unions said.
Schools reopened from the extended winter holidays on July 26. As of August 2, primary schools were expected to go back to daily attendance. However, the issue of space for social distancing versus the capacity of learners per school and class has remained a contentious issue.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga had said: “The instruction was very clear; in terms of the risk-adjusted differentiated strategy, schools that are not ready must not have all the learners back at once; instead, they must continue with rotation timetabling.”