Parents, school governing body (SGB) members and teachers once again lined streets on Monday morning, July 6, to protest the reopening of schools as Grades 6 and 11 pupils returned to class.
The protests have been taking place over the past couple of weeks to try and convince the government to halt the phasing in of the school curriculum.
Grades 7 and 12 pupils have already been back at school since the beginning of June – against the wishes of some parents, teachers and principals who fear a rising number of Covid-19 infections.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said schools are not ready to take on the next group of pupils and advocated that the staggered phasing in be delayed until August – after the expected peak in infections.
Last week the Department of Basic Education made a U-turn on a decision to have all grades phased in this week. Instead the decision was made to only send Grades R, 6 and 11 back – this decision was again changed to not include all Grade Rs.
Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said different provinces may be at different levels of readiness for the return of the Grade R pupils and those that had not been ready by Monday must provide realistic plans to ensure the reincorporation of those pupils.
She said those provinces which are ready to receive Grade Rs could start by the end of July.
Organisations consisting of civil organisations as well as teachers and worker unions released a combined statement demanding that Grades R to 11 stay at home until the curve has flattened.
They recommend that schools make alternative arrangements for pupils to continue their studies at home, that the department provide Grade 12 pupils with laptops and free data, that the schools implement their own time table model and called for intimidation of teachers, parents and non teaching staff to be refrained from.
Voice of Parkwood founder, Paul Phillips, said parents and the community of Parkwood and surrounds have been protesting at schools since last week, for schools not to reopen.
“There are a few reasons why we’re protesting namely; the government can’t give us any guarantee that the schools which are supposed to be a safe space, are safe. They have no guarantee that our children will not contract the virus in the schools. There is also no guarantee that if the child should get sick while at school, that there will be support programmes for the parents, learners and family,” he said.
Mr Phillips said they know of schools that are not ready for opening.
“This morning (Monday July 6) we stood in front of Parkwood Primary School and saw parents bringing their children to school without wearing a mask. Kids, when entering the premises, are not being screened at the main gate. While picketing at schools (since last week) we saw that no masks are being afforded to the children at these schools. The government doesn’t take those things into consideration when they make decisions.
“It is winter now and we’ve learnt that this is the time when the virus thrives under misty and cold weather conditions.”
He said they will continue to protest and picket against this decision to keep schools open.
“Children are at risk. We appeal to parents not to take your healthy children to a facility where your children can get sick. If your child contracts Covid-19, you are going to be alone and you will have to fight your own battle. Rather sacrifice today, than being sorrowful tomorrow,” said Mr Phillips.
Heathfield High SGB chairperson Vasoula Bailey said the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in schools.
“There is a lack of classrooms; space to socially distance during break times in all weather conditions; only one general worker, who has to sanitise every classroom three times per day; and insufficient educators due to co-morbidities and educator numbers decrease daily due to testing positive for Covid-19 or for displaying flu-like symptoms. This makes effective learning and teaching impossible,” she said.
She urged parents to keep their children at home.
Leading up to protests on Thursday June 25, principals Isaac Arendse from Steenberg High, Noel Isaacs from Floreat Primary, Wesley Neumann from Heathfield High and Vincent Hendricks from Athlone High had been vocal in trying to stop schools from opening early.
In a combined letter addressed to the South African government, the four men made an urgent appeal to the president and members of the cabinet to review its decision to reopen schools.
Debbie Shafer MEC for WCED responded to the outcry and said it is not possible to predict when the peak will be, and to keep children from school indefinitely is contrary to their interests.
“Available medical evidence is that children are least susceptible to getting the virus, and if they do, of getting it badly. There is strong support from the people who do know, for the re-opening of schools with the safety protocols in place. There are also many parents who are back at work, or who need to go back to work. For that, they need their children to be back at school,”she said.
Ms Shafer added that the people who will be most affected by not returning to school are the poor and the education they are missing will have a lifelong impact on their futures.
“The longer learners are out of school, the more likely it is that they will drop out. We have repeatedly stated that overcrowded classrooms must be dealt with by alternative methods of teaching, such as splitting classes or having different grades attend on different days. The fact that this is continually raised shows that there is something else behind these protests,” said Ms Shafer.
She added that parents may keep their children at home at the moment, provided that they apply via their school and take responsibility for their child’s learning.
“So really, all these issues raised in the statement have solutions.” she ended.