Indemnity forms and management of Covid-19 cases in schools
Statement by Minister Debbie Schäfer, Minister of Education Western Cape
The first two weeks of school for Grade 7s and 12s in the Western Cape proceeded well overall.
Thank you to all of the WCED officials, school staff, SGB members and parents who have supported our schools to open safely. A special thank you is also due to the learners who returned to school and co-operated with the screening procedures and hygiene practices.
However, two issues are causing confusion and distress in school communities at present – the signing of indemnity forms, and the cleaning and isolation protocol following positive cases at schools.
A number of parents have reported to us that they have been asked by schools to sign an indemnity form before their child is allowed to return to class. The WCED does not support the use of such forms, and indemnity forms do not remove legal responsibility from the Department.
Parents DO NOT have to sign such forms, and their children may not be refused entry to school if they do not sign. Any parent that has been asked to sign such a form should contact their district office immediately:
Cleaning and isolation following a confirmed case at a school
Whenever a confirmed case of Covid-19 is reported at a school, a detailed protocol must be followed – this is available on the WCED website (Guideline L – Managing Covid-19 cases in schools): https://wcedonline.westerncape.gov.za/back-school
A confirmed case does not necessarily require a school to be closed. In each case, a number of factors will be considered in making the decision.
Firstly, the areas where the staff member/learner has physically been present need to be disinfected. For example, if a staff member has only been in one or two rooms, it is possible for schooling to continue by cordoning off and sanitising those rooms. On the other hand, if the staff member has been all over the school, more areas will need to be sanitised which may require a temporary closure.
Secondly, the date that the staff member/learner was last present in the school is important. The NICD and Department of Health have told us that the virus does not survive on surfaces for more than 72 hours. If a staff member was last present at a school more than a week before, sanitising a surface is not required.
Finally, the number of direct contacts must also be considered. We must clearly distinguish between direct (close) contact, and casual contact. Direct contact involves being very close to someone physically, or giving a hug or a handshake. It is important that we keep direct contact to a minimum as required by physical distancing protocols. Only the direct contacts of a confirmed case need to isolate for up to 14 days from the date of last contact.
Just being in the same room as a confirmed case, when maintaining the 1.5m physical distancing requirement, is considered casual contact. Casual contacts do not need to isolate, but they should be monitored for any symptoms of Covid-19.
If only a handful of staff members at a school need to isolate, it would not be necessary to close a school. If a large number of staff members are required to isolate, this may impact on the ability of a school to continue teaching and supervision. If this does happen, permission must be granted by the Head of Department to close the school.
Thus, the circumstances of each positive case will determine whether the school needs to close. It is not an automatic decision. We have asked principals to ensure that they communicate clearly to their staff and parents of learners in this regard.
Importance of safety and hygiene practices
Our first line of defence against Covid-19 remains the safety and hygiene protocols that must be followed at schools. Regular hand-washing, cleaning, maintaining a 1.5m physical distance and undergoing screening procedures must continue if we are to reduce the risk of infection in our schools.
Experts have told us that the number of cases in our province will continue to rise for some time, so we cannot afford to become complacent. Each one of us must take responsibility for ensuring that we continue to implement these measures – be it at school, at work, in the home or when travelling.
Spokesperson to Minister Debbie Schäfer
Western Cape Ministry of Education