Thousands of teachers expected to ask for permission to teach from home

Pupils in grades 12 and 7 countrywide are expected to return to school first.
Pupils in grades 12 and 7 countrywide are expected to return to school first.
Image: Hennie Homann

Thousands of teachers suffering from underlying diseases are expected to apply for permission to teach from home.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, said a survey in which 514 schools participated indicated that 10% of teachers had comorbidities.

“There is a lot of uncertainty around how to handle the issue of teachers with comorbidities,” he said.

Provincial education departments have different plans in place on how to deal with this. In Mpumalanga, teachers who don’t return to school because of underlying medical conditions will participate in radio lessons and dial-a-tutor programmes.

Their counterparts in the Western Cape who are granted a concession to work from home will film lessons that will be screened to pupils in classrooms.

While some provinces are finding creative ways to get teachers to teach off-campus, they are still awaiting clarity from the department of basic education on how to manage teachers with comorbidities.

So far, schools have only received a medical questionnaire drawn up by the department of health that a doctor has to complete confirming whether or not a teacher has a comorbidity.

According to the list, comorbidities will include cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney disease, cancer, poorly controlled type II diabetes, advanced HIV,  severe obesity and third trimester pregnancy.

These teachers will have a normal teaching workload.
Western Cape superintendent general for education Brian Schreuder 

The Western Cape’s superintendent-general of education, Brian Schreuder, estimated that 2,000 teachers had applied for the concession to teach from home.

He said that while they were awaiting a directive from the basic education department, teachers with comorbidities were requested to apply for a concession through their principal.

“This has to be accompanied by a full medical history report from their medical practitioner as well as a plan on how they propose working from home.”

Teachers would have to submit lessons daily to the school that can be screened to pupils.

“They must be prepared to take work and assignments from learners and mark them at home. These teachers will have a normal teaching workload.”

Schreuder said that they would appoint teaching assistants to supervise pupils watching the lessons in class.

Mpumalanga’s education department spokesperson, Jasper Zwane, said teachers with comorbidities were expected to complete a form “to state their situation”.

“The department pledges to support them accordingly.”

The Northern Cape’s education department said it was conducting an audit of staff with comorbidities and those that were 60 years and older.

The other provinces did not respond to media enquiries.

Meanwhile, the secretariat for the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union in KwaZulu-Natal said in a statement that there was no truth to claims that substitute teachers would replace those with comorbidities.

“Currently, there are no guidelines for the department [provincial education departments] to effect such replacements. There is no tool to guide the affected employees.”

Sadtu’s KwaZulu-Natal secretariat said the basic education department and the teacher unions had to discuss the issue at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), a bargaining chamber for teachers.

ELRC spokesperson, Bernice Loxton, said she was still awaiting feedback from their general secretary.

The five teachers' unions and the three major governing body associations collectively confirmed in a statement on Friday that the department “had rushed to the ELRC” this week in an attempt to hammer out a policy on comorbidities.

“Discussions are still ongoing. This leaves a substantial group of teachers anxious and uncertain, not knowing whether they are expected to return to school or not.”

The department of basic education did not respond to media enquiries.

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