Schools protest opening

Teachers from schools in the Southern Mail distribution area protesting the further reopening of schools, planned for next week.

Principals and teachers have asked for the support of the community to stop the staggered reopening of schools for lower grades from next week.

The overwhelming consensus from principals and teachers have been to keep children at home with the Western Cape still to reach its peak in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week schools held a placard demonstration on Thursday June 25 along Prince George Drive and in Athlone to appeal to the government not to reopen schools for lower grades and potentially putting children and teachers at risk of contracting the virus.

Since the initial talks of reopening of schools by the government there has been push-back from stakeholders.

Despite this Grade 12 and 7 pupils have been back at school since the beginning of June.

Leading up to the protests, which were held 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 have 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.

It reads: “We opine, with great conviction that the decision to reopen primary and high schools on June 1 was the wrong one. We contend that the timing is bad as wintry weather brings with it seasonal illness such as influenza. The coronavirus thrives under cold conditions and will also augment and exacerbate the onset of the flu and tuberculosis. At the time of writing this letter, incidents of teachers and children suffering and deaths due to Covid 19 are rising.

“As concerned principals, we are invoking constitutional, revolutionary and spiritual values in reaching out to you, our country’s leaders. We are not health or scientific experts but we do have combined years of experience of teaching and leading on the ground at school. These years of activism at the coalface should count as an important subjective trajectory of human life above a curriculum.”

The letter goes on to say that the concern about teachers’ and children’s health and safety is born out of great love for people and their basic needs: “As principals who care, we have to consider and fight for the rights to life of human beings under our watch. Our children and teachers are terrified of contracting the coronavirus. The anxiety around Covid-19 is palpable…

“The extra workload with regards to health screening, now foisted onto the teachers, is adding to the anxiety.”

They have asked that schooling be suspended countrywide.

“We as principals in the trenches would love to meet with a cabinet task team to discuss the suitability of a postponed reopening. During our deliberations, we appeal to the government to categorically address the inequality in the South African education system. The inequality is manifest in thousands of schools of the poor not having proper infrastructure and water and sanitation.”

Angie Motshekga, the Minister of Basic Education, said her department is satisfied that the system is ready to restart amid the new Covid-19 induced measures.

She said the country and education sector must find a way to live alongside the virus.

“I don’t expect us to go back to normality in the next two years. We cannot close schools for three years.”

Schools have also started sending out notifications about split classroom rosters starting on Monday July 6.

At most schools classes will be split into two groups with alternative school days for each group in the various grades and rotating from week to week.

Group one would have to attend school on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday followed by Tuesday and Thursday the following week and the same will apply to group 2. The reason for the new roster is to give each group an equal amount of school days to attend for the term.

This will also allow for smaller classrooms with more control over social distancing.

Retreat resident Chante Galant, parent to a Grade 5 and Grade 9 pupils, said she worries about her children and the safety of her elderly parents.

“I am so scared and I honestly don’t know what to do. I don’t want to send my kids to school because they might be fine but they can bring the virus home and my elderly and sickly parents would then be at risk. Since the beginning I have been against the reopening of the schools but government doesn’t listen to us,” she said.

She questioned if young children will adhere to safety regulations and protocols.

“My child is Grade 5 and I still have to keep an eye on her because she’d hug people and forget about her mask. At school the teacher cannot watch them all the time and that is how the virus will spread,” she said.

Heathfield High principal Mr Nuemann said meetings with about 40 school principals to discuss the issue took place on Monday June 29.

This after they wrote to the president hoping to meet with the relevant departments or members of the cabinet.

“We are still waiting for feedback but in the meantime we will finalise a memorandum and hand it over to the department of basic education. There will also be a picket across the Western Cape on Thursday July 2 along all major highways and roads between 7am and 9am to again get the relevant departments’ attention,” said Mr Neumann.

He called on all interested parties to stand in solidarity with parents, teachers and principals to stop the planned re-attendance of the different grades.

“We’ve exhausted all reasonable avenues – now we need to show feet on the ground to form a human chain on Thursday,” he said.

Asked what the alternative could be, one of the recommendations is to suspend the academic year until the peak has passed.

“Once the peak has passed and our Covid-19 numbers decrease then stakeholders can come together and decide what to do next. Throughout this we will send learners workaids and material. The opening of the schools during this time is not conducive to quality teaching because teachers and learners are fearful and that has a psychological impact,”said Mr Neumann.

For more information about the planned picket demonstration call your child’s school directly.