‘Pupils are scared, and so are staff’: back to school during Covid-19

Mom ready with steam iron before primary school child can enter home

Pupils have to make a stop at the screening station before entering the school premises.                              Image: Andisiwe May

Shared anxiety and determination united pupils and teachers at Gauteng schools on Monday, the first day of class during the lockdown for grades 7 and 12 pupils.

Pupils were screened before they entered the sanitised premises, and social distancing was observed.

At Roosevelt High School in Johannesburg, principal Willie de Wet said pupils and staff were eager for schooling to resume.

“The pupils have been so well behaved this morning, I am proud of them. They have been following social distancing measures,” said De Wet.

The school has been ready to receive students for two weeks as staff had anticipated opening a week earlier.

“We are happy we waited to make sure we sanitised and deep-cleaned to ensure the staff and pupils are safe,” said De Wet.

Some worried parents stood at the nearby Franklin D Roosevelt Primary School, where they were advised they were not allowed to enter the school premises in line with government guidelines.

“There are very high levels of anxiety. My son went in 10 minutes ago and I’m still here,” said Faiyaz Haniff.

The parents say their main concern is that they are not allowed to see for themselves that the school has the requisite stringent safety measures in place.

“Standing outside and watching them go in is not enough, especially since I don’t know what the set-up is like inside. I guess I’m going to have to trust the teachers,” said one parent.

Parents at the gate after dropping their children at this primary school in Johannesburg.
Parents at the gate after dropping their children at this primary school in Johannesburg.                                                    Image: Andisiwe May

The mother said she had bought a steam iron so she can steam her daughter when she returns home from school.

“When she gets home, I am going to steam her, wash her uniform and prepare a shower for her before she can sit comfortably at home,” said the mom.

Teachers at the school declined to comment.

At the high school, with only two pupils not attending school on Monday for medical reasons, 187 grade 12 pupils were expected to arrive today.

De Wet said the school employs some teachers over the age of 60 and has made special arrangements for them.

Pupils were greeted at the entrance to their school as part of their orientation on the first day back in class during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pupils were greeted at the entrance to their school as part of their orientation on the first day back in class during the coronavirus pandemic.                                                                                                                                                  Image: Andisiwe May

“Pupils are scared but so are staff members. However, we are in the business of teaching,” he said.

Eager to start teaching, De Wet and fellow staff members stood outside the school premises to greet pupils and guide them through the morning’s routine.

Pupils have to stand in marked lines to adhere to social distancing measures. They then hand in indemnity forms and walk to a screening station where they are sanitised and screened.

De Wet said the school is fully prepared for any crisis.

“In case of a crisis, we are prepared. The school has full internet and all lessons are recorded. We will continue with Zoom and send work to other pupils” he said.

During the past month, the school sent 326,000 e-mails and WhatsApp messages with school work to keep pupils up to date.

Social distancing was the order of the day as pupils made their way back to class at Roosevelt High School in Johannesburg on Monday.
Social distancing was the order of the day as pupils made their way back to class at Roosevelt High School in Johannesburg on Monday.                                                                                                                                                         Image: Andisiwe May

“Grade 12 exams are already set. Our aim is to do the same for the rest of the grades to finish the curriculum,” De Wet said.

The principal of Tsakani Primary in Kagiso offered parents the assurance that the school  “is  ready” and had prepared enough to welcome its grade 7 pupils back to school on Monday morning.

“I think we are very ready. We have all the required equipment, including personal protective supplies, and we have made sure there is social distancing,” David Chauke said.

Class sizes have been reduced at Tsakani Primary School to ensure social distancing.
Class sizes have been reduced at Tsakani Primary School to ensure social distancing.                                                       Image: Iavan Pijoos

On arrival at the school, grade 7 pupils were screened with thermometers. Temperature checks were administered by teachers, and pupils had to sign a register.

White lines and cones marked a 1m social distancing space between pupils in a queue.

Chauke, who has been principal at the school since 1998, said they had split the classrooms and staggered the breaks to ensure social distancing. He said they had also fumigated the classrooms.

“Teachers must remain vigilant and monitor the children at all times when they go to the toilet and during break times. We must make sure social distancing is observed at all times.”

Head girl Ndivhuwo Makanise said she was glad to be back at school “because it was boring at home” and not helping her education. “Now that we are back at school, we have seen the importance of being here.

“I think we can win this battle against the virus if we focus as a country and do everything we are asked to do. Only if we do that we will conquer,” she said.

Head boy Welcome Mabila said he was “scared” upon his return to school.

“This pandemic, if we don’t follow the rules, it will spread all over. At school we need to practise social distancing, wash our hands and sanitise our pens and desks after touching them.”

Mabila said education was important because it “changes your future”.

He said he wants to become an engineer.

Pupils make their way to the school entrance at Sparrow Combined Technical School on Monday morning. After being away from school for more than two months, today marks the first official day back for the new term for grades 7 and 12.
Pupils make their way to the school entrance at Sparrow Combined Technical School on Monday morning. After being away from school for more than two months, today marks the first official day back for the new term for grades 7 and 12.    Image: Amina Asma

At the Sparrow Combined Technical School in Sophiatown, the school took special measures to reassure parents about their children’s safety after being away from class for more than two months.

Principal Ashwon Lechman told TimesLIVE: “We filmed a series of videos to send to the parents to see how our plan to run things will work. A lot of them were very nervous about today, and this is why we tried to put them at ease with the videos.”

He said they were fortunate to have big premises that allow pupils and staff to effectively practise social distancing.

Alison Button, head of academics, said: “As a special needs school, we had to change everything and put together an entire new plan for how we were going to teach. We understand not all the pupils will be excited to come back to school, but we are glad we have been given the chance to carry on with teaching so we don’t lose the academic year,” said Button.

In Atteridgeville, Pretoria, first day jitters were evident.

Reduced seating to enforce social distancing guidelines on a bus used to transport pupils to and from school during the coronavirus pandemic.
Reduced seating to enforce social distancing guidelines on a bus used to transport pupils to and from school during the coronavirus pandemic.                                                                             Image: Shonisani Tshikalange

Scholar transport company Asivhanga had dispatched five buses, but in total 46 pupils boarded. In one vehicle, only three pupils were transported to school.

Transport manager Murendeni Tshikunde said many pupils were apprehensive when they boarded.

“Most are scared when we scan them. They say they are scared they might have the coronavirus,” he said.

Parents expressed their relief when they inspected the safety measures taken by the company.

Tshikunde said the company’s 65-seater vehicle has been reduced to a 39-seater to adhere to lockdown regulations, and hygiene measures were in place with sanitisers and masks for pupils at the pick-up point.

BY: ANDISIWE MAY, IAVAN PIJOOS, AMINA ASMA AND SHONISANI TSHIKALANGE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here