Newsletter – 3rd May 2020

Dear Parents and Guardians

I write to you in an effort to provide some clarity with regard to the education of your children at this very difficult time in our country’s history. There can be no doubt that we are living in uncertain times and that phrases such as “the new normal” are quickly becoming part of our everyday vocabulary.

I hope to bring you and your children some clarity and certainty for the next week or two.

On Friday I awaited the Ministerial briefing from the Minister of Basic Education with great anticipation. Following on from the briefing to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the previous day, I was left with a sense that we would soon be able to resume some form of on-site teaching for a part of our pupil community at least. Alas, that was not to be. Unfortunately, the briefing raised more questions than it provided answers and we were left feeling somewhat confused and not a little frustrated.

That was Friday. Today’s Sunday. As we’ve learnt in recent weeks, two days can be a very long time in the present circumstances. What we were able to confirm from Friday’s press conference is the following:

  • The Head Office officials attached to the Department of Basic Education will return to the office on Monday, 4th May to commence preparations for the re-opening of schools.
  • Between the 11th and 18th May management teams and teachers will return to schools to prepare the facility and to revise the curriculum in anticipation of the return of Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils on 1st June.
  • Further information regarding the return of the remaining pupils will follow.
  • These arrangements are, however, subject to the approval of the Cabinet and the agreement of the teacher unions (primarily SADTU and NAPTOSA) .
  • Schools will have to be “COVID-19 compliant” before they receive approval to open.

Where does this leave independent schools in general and St Catherine’s in particular? ISASA, the independent schools’ advisory body, is in the process of preparing guidelines which we will be able to follow. It is anticipated that these will be published early this coming week. In the interim I am able to provide feedback with regard to our own school:

  • On Monday, 4th May I will return to school with Mr le Roux, the Estate Manager, and our support staff. Our aim will be to make sure that the school is “COVID-19 ready” and complies with any regulations which the Department of Health may have.
  • In the past two weeks we have already purchased the necessary PPE for all staff, hand sanitiser and additional dispensers, remote temperature guns and protective screens for the desks of administrative staff. We have identified an isolation venue and developed a policy to deal with the management of the virus in our school community.
  • We will be making arrangements to deep clean and sanitise the school, post information posters and institute protocols for social distancing.
  • Support staff will receive the necessary training.
  • Access to the school will be carefully controlled.

I am confident that ISASA will provide additional guidelines which we will follow to the letter. Our overriding aim is to provide a safe environment where our pupils feel safe, and where every precaution has been taken to protect them.

We have been told that independent schools may be permitted to return to on-site teaching before the proposed date of 1st June, provided that they meet all health requirements and don’t exceed the norm of a group of 50. We meet that norm as we have fewer than 50 Grade 12 pupils and 50 Grade7 pupils. However, it is an open question as to who is authorised to grant a clean bill of health regarding the safety standards that must be met. I await clarification in this regard. It has also been intimated that pre-schoolers may be allowed to return to school earlier in order to assist parents who must return to work. On this matter we also await further feedback. However, we will take all necessary steps to open the Pre-School under stipulated conditions as soon as approval is granted. We will keep you posted.

I have been contacted by our uniform suppliers who have assured me that they have adequate stock of winter uniform available. I wish to remind you that pupils are expected to return to school in winter uniform and that this may be the ideal time to stock up. Simply School has informed me that they have compliant face masks in stock which have the school’s badge embroidered on them. I encourage you to look at these masks as an option for your child.

Once we have greater clarity with regard to these matters I will, once again, write to you to confirm further arrangements. In the meantime, Digischool continues for all pupils. We have introduced Google Classroom for all pupils from Grade 1 to Grade 7 and the Prep School is now aligned with the Senior School in this exciting initiative. Do not hesitate to contact us should you experience any difficulty. Your Phase Principal will be more than happy to assist you.

God bless and stay safe!

Yours faithfully

Mr D.I. Maritz
Head of School