The government’s plan to partially re-open schools in May was rejected by Teacher unions, and parent bodies, citing high risk and schools ill-equipped to enforce social distancing. Several teachers unions yesterday said they would advise their members not to report for duty on the 6th of May.
Unions said they wanted the department to provide thermal scanners, mobile classrooms and toilets, and all other safety equipment such as masks and sanitisers before reopening. Mathanzima Mweli, director-general of basic education, briefed the parliament’s portfolio committee on education on the plans for schools to start reopening next week, with grades 7 and 12 the first to return. He said that basic and essential hygiene and sanitation packages have been developed as well as guidelines for schools on maintaining hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidelines include screening of teachers and pupils for temperature, limiting classrooms to 40 pupils, and the provision of masks and sanitisers.
SADTU spokesperson, Nomusa Cembi said that if their demands were not met, their members would “simply not return to school.”
President of the Professional Educators’ Union, Johannes Motana, 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.
Paul Coliditz of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools agreed: “We will also advise parents not to send kids to school. They need a complete buy-in from parents and unions.”
Melidah Malemela, a parent feels unhappy about school re-opening, especially schools in townships where overcrowding classrooms are a certainty. “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.
Musa Baloyi, also a parent feels that it is near impossible 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.
The National Teachers Union’s Allen Thompson said that reopening schools now 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.”