The first week of the reopening of schools has been marred by disruptions ranging from the closure of schools to protests.
On Monday, Grades 7 and 12 learners headed back to school, two months after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the nationwide lockdown in March.
In her last address on the eve of the reopening of schools across the country, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gave the assurance that schools would have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and comply with the coronavirus safety regulations.
In the video below, Minister Motshekga briefs the media on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools:
However, in the first week of learning after about two months, numerous schools have been closed.
The move followed the discovery of coronavirus cases among learners and staff.
In the Western Cape, 66 teachers and two learners tested positive for COVID-19 since schools reopened on the 1st of June.
This while 16 out of 1 500 schools in the province didn’t open because they still had to be sanitized.
In KwaZulu-Natal, at least five schools were closed this week due to coronavirus cases. Two of these schools are in the Pietermaritzburg area, while three others are in Durban.
Despite this, however, Provincial Education Department Spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa says three of the schools have since been deep-cleaned and will be reopened.
“I can confirm to you that three of those schools have now been cleaned and cleared and the teaching and learning will resume. Already we have two schools in Pietermaritzburg again, we will follow the same process with what we want to achieve. The aim is to ensure that everyone is safe, both educators and learners.”
Learners forced out of school
A group of Congress of South African Students (Cosas) members in the Free State forcefully removed learners at various schools in Bloemfontein. The movement has called for the closure of schools until their demands are met. These include COVID-19 tests to be made compulsory before learners are allowed back in the classrooms. This as 15 matriculants at the Heatherdale Secondary School in the city were sent to Pelonomi Hospital after showing flu-like symptoms.
Free State Cosas Acting Chairperson Jongimpi Memela claims the Education Department misled the public when it announced the state of readiness to resume classes for grade 7 and 12 learners.
Memela says the department was desperate to save the 2020 academic year without adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols.
“We must condemn schools from resuming with immediate effect. We have visited a few schools around the province and we are not happy with the state of schools, in fact, the state of readiness when the department reported that the schools were ready, the department was misleading the nation and everyone in general because you find that hygienically schools are not complying. PPEs are not sufficiently delivered, the social distancing between learners is not realised.”
The Free State Education Department has condemned the calls for schools to be closed, calling them illegal.
“The decision to shut down schools will be unconstitutional and illegal and therefore we frown upon any attempt to derail schooling but we really appreciate their request for a meeting with the Department of Education and as such we will be having a meeting with them on Thursday and hope that their concerns will be ventilated in that meeting. The reality is you don’t test before you screen and you don’t test everyone and our health officials are telling us that the prerequisites for testing is that you start by screening,” says the Department’s Spokesperson Howard Ndaba.
Poor quality masks
Meanwhile, there have been complaints about the poor quality of masks handed out to children when they returned to school this week.
Minister Motshekga has acknowledged that the quality of masks needs to improve.
” I think we can do better. I’ve not heard anything about sanitizers, but the masks I’ve been speaking to colleagues, they’ve kept with the specifications. In the next round, we should do better, we should look for breathable masks, not ordinary masks. For now, I think these kids can tolerate them, but in time I think it must just be a burden to be wearing these masks which are not breathable. So it’s a matter which I have raised with the colleagues.”
The National Association of Parents in School Governance has called for the immediate shut down of schools that do not have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment. The association has lambasted Motshekga, accusing her of disregarding the lives of children.
“We are very disappointed that our children are subjected to the poor quality of masks that are supposed to be used to protect them as part of the Personal Protective Equipment. They have taken short cuts, just like they have taken short cuts with the reopening of schools without listening to views. In the meantime, every school that does not comply, that does not have PPEs must be shut down immediately until PPEs can be provided,” says the president of the association, Mahlomola Kekana.
Despite the calls to stop the reopening of schools, the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday rejected an application brought by Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) to have classes suspended amid rising COVID-19 cases in South Africa until quality PPEs are made available to educators and learners.