Parents and unions reject government's plan to partially re-open schools

It might take longer for this normal classroom activity to be seen again in South Africa. /Tiro Ramatlhatse
It might take longer for this normal classroom activity to be seen again in South Africa. /Tiro Ramatlhatse

Teacher unions and parents' bodies have rejected government's plan to partially re-open schools next month, citing high risk and ill- equipped schools to enforce social distancing.

Several teacher unions told Sowetan yesterday they would advise their members not to report for duty on May 6 - the date the department of basic education was proposing for reopening for grades 12 and 7.

In addition, the unions said they want the department to first provide thermal scanners, mobile classrooms to accommodate social distancing, hire more teachers, mobile toilets and all safety equipment such as masks and sanitisers before proposing to re-open.

Yesterday, the department of basic education's director-general Mathanzima Mweli briefed the parliament's portfolio committee on education on the plans for the schools to reopen next week starting with grades 7 and 12.

He said basic and essential hygiene and sanitation packages have been developed and the department had developed guidelines for schools on maintaining hygiene during the Covid 19 pandemic.

These included screening of teachers and pupils for temperature, limiting classrooms to about 40 pupils and provision of masks and sanitisers.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said if their demands are not met, their members "would simply not go to school".

Johannes Motana, president of Professional Educators' Union, said there should be urgent employment of additional teachers.

"We will give our members a directive not to go to school and take legal action for the department's noncompliance to ensure the health and safety of their employees," he said.

The unions' sentiments were echoed by Paul Colditz from the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools.

Coliditz said: "We will also advise parents not to send kids to school. They need a complete buy-in from parents and unions."

A parent, Melidah Malemela, 30, said she was not happy about the re-opening of schools.

"It takes the department the whole year to deliver just textbooks, how long is it going to take them to deliver sanitisers and masks? I am worried about the issue of overcrowding in classrooms, especially township schools, and the shortage of teachers as well. I don't think the department is ready to have children going back to school," she said.

Another parent, Musa Baloyi, 35, said it would be difficult to enforce social distancing with children.

"Kids are kids, they will not adhere to the social distance rule. I just don't think the department is ready for the re-opening of schools. They should have waited at least for another month," he said.

Cembi accused the department of basic education of engaging in bad faith "when we are faced with a virulent and contagious pandemic".

She said the department should fumigate and disinfect all schools before reopening.

Allen Thompson of the National Teachers Union also said reopening schools next week would be premature.

"We want 20 learners per class and extra mobile classes. At least the schools can only open for matriculants for now and they should also be given sanitising packs, and there should be water tankers for schools without running water," Thompson said.

Matakanye Matakanye, the secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said they welcomed the plan to resume academic activities but said the plan needed to be reviewed.

"We are concerned about social distancing; how are we going to implement it in some of our overcrowded schools?" he asked.

Katleho Mangoejane, national convenor of Congress of South African Students, said: "Transport to school will remain a problem as taxis are only permitted to carry a certain number of passengers."

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