Concerns mount over schools reopening in June

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The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) says schools should only reopen in September as temperatures will be higher and therefore provide a better climate to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The union has served the Basic Education Department with legal papers, saying it intends to interdict the opening of schools on June the first.

Grade 7 and 12 learners are set to return on the proposed date as announced by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

The country now has 407 deaths from COVID19 complications and registers 21 343 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

EUSA General Secretary, Siphiwe Mpungose, says if Motshekga persists with the reopening of schools, they will push for her to be charged with attempted genocide as two school principals in the Western Cape are alleged to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We need to move with the strength of the virus. The higher temperatures, this virus does not spread when there are higher temperatures so we are saying September is the ideal period for schools to reopen. There was in the Western Cape, there were two school principals who have tested positive. Our legal team are busy at work with the interdict papers but if she persists when there are children testing positive, when there are teachers testing positive – we will be charging this Minister with attempted genocide,” he says.

SABC News apologises for the previous image used in this article, which was of a different union than the one in question.

In the video below, EUSA serves Basic Education with legal letter:

The union’s charge comes as South Africa’s biggest teachers’ union, SADTU, and National Teachers Union (NATU) say their members won’t be reporting for work on Monday.

Minister Motshekga advised that teachers return to school on Monday 25th May to prepare for the re-opening of schools.

SADTU KwaZulu-Natal General Secretary, Nomarashiya Caluza, says they have informed members not to report for duty after visiting various districts in the province.

She says union representatives found that face masks and related equipment have not been delivered. Caluza says members will only return to work once the government has audited the delivery of all personal  protective equipment.

“We did see some deliveries that have been done to district offices and those things have not been taken to schools. Very few things were able to be sent like the five litter sanitisers are in schools, but the mask and other things are still in district offices based on that the union SADTU, that is why we are advising members not to report for duty tomorrow because the department needs time to send to those schools to audit then to deliver to schools. it is after that process that as a union we will be confident that our schools are safe,” Caluza says.

In the video below, SADTU explains its stance:

SADTU’S North West Secretary, Els Themba, says the department is far from ready for the reopening of schools.

“Close to more than a thousand schools in the province have not been cleaned and disinfected. The other aspect that we have raised as an organisation, is that some of our own members across other provinces have not even received their own permits, and therefore they cannot travel. In one school, with 37 members or staff members in that particular school, only eight masks were delivered and as such we have said that the lives of our members are in danger.”

National Teachers Union’s Alan Thompson says NATU will also not allow its members to expose themselves to an unsafe environment.

“We have reported our concerns to the department of basic education that we have many schools that have not been properly sanitised. We have many schools that have never received the hygiene and other sanitation material. Unfortunately we have many schools that have not employed people who are going to clean the surfaces and assist to maintain the proper sanitation in the school as a result we have discouraged our members from going to work simply because we cannot expose them to an environment that is not safe that is not healthy for them to be able to work in.”

Change of heart

KwaZulu-Natal authorities have taken the provincial unions’ concerns to heart.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala has told journalists that teachers are expected to be back at school on Thursday once all personal protection equipment have been delivered in all schools in the province.

“In KwaZulu-Natal teachers and SMTS will not be expected to report back to school tomorrow as previously announced. This is done in order to ensure that all the schools have been thoroughly cleaned and that delivery of all essentials, especially PPEs have reached all our schools. We have taken the decision due to the fact that the demand for these essentials far outstep our surplus and as much as some schools are not yet in possession of all the equipment,” Zikalala says.

In the video below, Zikalala addresses the media on this:

The National Department of Basic Education is yet to respond to these concerns. However, Minister Motshekga has pledged government’s commitment to ensure that all children are safe.

Minister Motshekga has urged parents who are not yet comfortable with returning their children back to school to rather choose home-schooling when classes for grades seven and 12 resume.

The graph below is the Department of Education’s Back To School Plan: