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'We're not ready': Back to school plan under fire

24 May 2020 - 14:44 By TimesLIVE
Unions, governing body associations and parents say many schools are not ready to reopen
Unions, governing body associations and parents say many schools are not ready to reopen
Image: paylessimages / 123RF Stock Photo

Unions, governing body associations and parents say many schools are not ready to reopen, with less than a day to go before thousands of teachers are expected to return and prepare for classes on June 1.

Unions led the charge on Sunday, reiterating that government had failed to deliver on “non-negotiables” such as providing personal protective equipment (PPEs) and water for hygiene purposes.

There is also uncertainty over substitute teachers being brought in to take the place of teachers with existing medical conditions who have been advised to stay home.

Cynthia Barnes, general secretary of the National Teachers Union (Natu) was blunt in an interview with CapeTalk radio on Sunday:  “Our teachers are not going to school on the 25th of May,” she said.

She said unions met with education department officials on Saturday but were still in the dark about how many teachers with underlying health issues would be exempted from reporting for duty, including those aged above 60. It was also unclear how substitute teachers would be brought in.

“Even the DG yesterday [Saturday] said it himself that there are so many provinces that are not ready,” she said. “All the non-negotiables have not been met yet. For example, most of the schools in the entire country haven’t received the personal protective equipment. Sanitisers have not arrived and schools [were] not cleaned.

TimesLIVE reported on Saturday that basic education minister Angie Motshekga’s plans to get teachers back to school on Monday had been thrown into disarray.

In a circular dated May 22, Mpumalanga education department’s acting head of education, Jabulani Nkosi, said teachers “must only report to schools at a date still to be confirmed by the department”. Free State teachers would only return to school on Thursday. The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union’s secretariats in Gauteng, Northern Cape and North West advised members not to come to school until all the Covid-19 precautionary measures were implemented.

City Press on Sunday quoted CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools Paul Colditz as saying that a picture was emerging of provinces not being ready. “Sufficient PPEs have not been delivered and some schools still do not have adequate water supplies.”

Matakanye Matakanye, spokesperson for the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), told the publication that the association was “not going to encourage parents to send their children back to school under current circumstances”.

Natu president Allen Thompson told City Press “we are not going to work on Monday ... But if the employer is insisting we will need to obtain an interdict. Some schools still do not have water. This disease requires hygiene standards to be improved. It’s too little, too late.”

Rapport newspaper quoted an Ipsos poll of 160,000 parents in 16 countries — 1,000 of them in SA of which 24% said they would not send their children back to school. Only two in 10 were “fairly comfortable” with the idea.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in KwaZulu-Natal said in a statement on Sunday that the province was “not ready in complying with Covid-19 regulations and we therefore advise workers in education not to report for duty on 25 May 2020 until the employer has ensured compliance and until the union is confident about the state of readiness”.

“In the meantime the department must do the right thing as one way of prioritising lives of its employees and learners — cleaning and disinfecting the schools,” said the union.

Barnes said the various unions had agreed on the department having to meet “non-negotiables” before teachers and pupils returned. They included the provision of personal protective equipment, sanitisers, pumps and water tanks, and that schools be disinfected and buses used to transport pupils be fumigated.